Ross ready to step up recovery

Ryan Esson looks set to keep hold of the Inverness number one
slot for the Scottish Premier League clash with Kilmarnock after
boss Terry Butcher hinted he will be his first-choice goalkeeper
for the remainder of the season.

Esson missed four months with a hip injury but replaced Antonio
Reguero for recent defeats to Kilmarnock and Celtic.

Butcher, whose side has a clean bill of health for Kilmarnock’s
visit to the Highlands, said: “Ryan has great experience and it was
my call to put him back in. But Antonio is pushing him all the
way.”

Rangers target Cammy Bell will sit out a second game in
succession for Kilmarnock as he recovers from a hip injury.

The goalkeeper, linked with a pre-contract switch to Ibrox, was
replaced for Saturday’s 2-0 win over Motherwell by understudy Kyle
Letheran and will once more watch on from the stands as his
team-mates take on Inverness at the Caledonian Stadium on Wednesday
night.

Cillian Sheridan and Rory McKeown have also been ruled out of
the match after they also missed the Motherwell encounter at Rugby
Park.

The Irons are without a Premier League match now until they host
Tottenham on February 25, when they will be seek to maintain safe
distance between themselves and the battle for survival.

Such a trip proved the perfect tonic for Allardyce’s squad 12
months ago when, on their return from the Middle East, they lost
just one of the remaining 14 npower Championship games as West Ham
secured promotion back to the top-flight through the play-offs.

Allardyce is in no doubt the five-day break will prove to be of
great benefit.

“It worked last year, we had a fantastic finish to the season
and I still think the trip that we had at this time last year was a
big benefit in the end for getting us promoted into the Premier
League,” Allardyce said on West Ham TV.

“I have talked to a lot of managers and they have already taken
the opportunity to get away when they can, a few more (teams) are
going around the same time as us and some more afterwards.

“Nearly everybody does it today which obviously is a benefit to
you and the team, and the results when you come back.”

Allardyce maintains the squad will reap the benefits as they
look to get Sunday’s 2-1 defeat at relegation-battlers Aston Villa
out of their system, which was a fourth loss in six league
games.

“When they are in gloves and hats, it is hard to keep them warm,
you have to keep them going. It is not an ideal environment,” he
said.

“When the lads can train in short sleeves and shorts, they don’t
want to finish training, they just want to carry on. You get an
awful lot more out of them.

“The benefits mentally will be massive. The pressure on players
today is enormous in the Barclays Premier League, it is all around
you, all the time, 24/7.

“So to go away and recuperate physically and mentally is a big,
big thing for us.”

Striker Carlton Cole is in no doubt the break will boost
players’ stamina levels.

“The boys will be re-charged and reinvigorated,” he said.

“We keep focused on training and doing the right things, but the
difference is that you benefit from the warmer weather and it is in
a different environment, just a change and it mixes it up for all
the lads.

“I have always found it positive and we have come back to good
results after trips like this.

“It is a chance for the team to also look at what we have done
so far and what there is still to be done, talking and looking at
this all together.”

Meanwhile, London Mayor Boris Johnson refused to be drawn on
whether West Ham had moved a step closer to moving into the Olympic
Stadium.

Reports suggest the Irons have agreed a compromise following
demands from Johnson – who is also chairman of the London Legacy
Development Corporation – over a share in profits were the Premier
League club to be sold in the future.

Speaking to ITV, Johnson said: “I can’t go into the details
because negotiation is going on, but I am very confident that there
will be a good outcome whatever happens, that we will have a
fantastic future for the stadium – as I constantly say – with or
without Association Football.”

The 21-year-old dislocated his shoulder in August but only
returned to action just before the new year.

He has made three brief substitute appearances since then before
reclaiming his starting role for games against Kilmarnock and
Celtic as he readjusts to the hectic pace of the Scottish Premier
League.

But Scotland Under-21 cap Ross – who struck the opener in
Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to Neil Lennon’s SPL champions – insists he
needs to complement his growing lung capacity with an eye for
goal.

He said: “It was very good to get on the scoresheet at the
weekend. It’s something I need to add to my game. In my first
season in the SPL it took me 30-odd games to get a goal.

“So it was good to get one against Celtic after coming back from
being injured.

“It was just a shame about the result and we’ll look to do
better tomorrow.

“I’ve got two for the season and two isn’t bad. I’d obviously
like to do a lot more. Just getting games at the moment is the
important thing. If I can get back fit, hopefully the goals will
come.”

Ross injured his shoulder in another defeat to the Hoops just
four games into the new campaign and was forced to undergo surgery
before he could resume playing duties.

But the pace of the SPL is still taking him time to get used
to.

“It’s good to be back,” he said. “I was stuck on the bench for a
long time and in the gym getting fit again and that’s tough.

“I’m still getting used to the tempo. On Saturday it was tough,
a bit of a struggle. The first 20 minutes were hectic but I got
used to it before tiring at the end.

“But that is to be expected because of the length of time I was
out for. Playing games is what is important now and the more I play
the stronger I’ll get.”

Ross’ return to the Caley Thistle squad has coincided with the
team’s worst run of form so far this season.

Despite sitting joint-second in the top-flight standings, the
Highlanders have won just one of their last seven matches.

They were also knocked out of two cup competitions in the space
of a week with defeats to Hearts and Kilmarnock amid a run that now
stretches to four consecutive loses.

The visit of Killie to the Caledonian Stadium on Wednesday on
league business now offers Ross and his colleagues a chance to try
and right their ailing vessel.

He said: “Maybe a month ago, we’d have won a couple of these
games. We’re playing well right now but just not getting the
results.

“We went to Kilmarnock and played quite well but got beat 2-0,
then did the same at St Mirren.

“Results just aren’t going for us but we are trying hard to
change that.

“However, every time we look at the table, we know we are having
a good season and that a couple of results isn’t really a set-back,
just a few games where we could have done better.”