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Ireland is Reid's aim after Rover return

THERE was warm applause from the home crowd when Blackburn Rovers manager Sam Allardyce gestured to Steven Reid, with 20 minutes left in last Sunday's league game against Fulham at Ewood Park, that his time was up and he was coming off.

Allardyce swapped an Irish midfielder for another one as Reid was replaced by Dubliner Keith Andrews for the final stages of the game. The crowd were not clapping because Reid, who has played precious little football for the club over the last four seasons, was being taken off and they were glad to see the back of him.

Instead, they were happy to see him back. Sixteen long months after he lasted played in the Premier League for Blackburn, Reidy was back.

"I got a really great reception, before the game and when I was coming off, which was nice," Reid told the Herald.

"It's funny because I was probably a little bit grumpy at the time. There were 20 minutes left and I wanted to see it out. I wanted to play the 90 minutes, but the manager felt it was best to take me off. I had been out for so long and that was fair enough, especially as we had another game later in the week, away to Villa in the League Cup (tonight).

"But that reaction from the crowd meant the world to me. Some fans think that players don't care -- all they want is the money. But I have tried so hard to get fit and be in a position to deliver for this club, people wouldn't believe.

"I haven't had a holiday with my family for the last two years. I was working on my own or with trainers to get myself right. Last summer I took myself off up to Cumbria with a trainer to get myself right, stomping up the mountains when most people were on a beach.

"I did that because I want to play, I don't want to sit in the stands every week and pick up my pay cheque for doing nothing. So when the Blackburn fans clapped me when I came off last weekend, it meant the world to me," Reid said.



injury-cursed

It's not often that an injury-cursed player, which could be a label for Reid, is so highly thought of at a club.

And for Reid the stats don't lie. Since the start of the 2006/07 season, Blackburn Rovers FC have played 136 league games, and Reid has played in just 32 of them.

He played in every minute of the first three games of the 2006/07 season, then went to Germany on European Championship qualifier duty with Ireland, played well in Stuttgart, got booked and almost scored, but managed to suffer a back injury which turned out to be a stress fracture. It would be 15 months before Blackburn fans saw him in action again.

That's why Sunday's win over Fulham was a big occasion for the 28-year-old, why he's desperate to play again in tonight's Carling Cup semi-final against Aston Villa. He wants to show loyalty to the club that has stood by him through the hard times, the club who stood by him when he had a row with the FAI and Giovanni Trapattoni over his fitness a few months back.

But he also needs to show that he's not a sicknote, that he can deliver. Reid's contract with Blackburn is up in the summer. And so far, the club have not been in a big rush to plonk a new contract under his nose. They know the stats, too: since August 2008, Rovers have played 75 first team games in all competitions, and Reid has taken part in just 10.

"I know my contract's up in the summer, normally a player like me would have either signed a contract extension or held talks with other clubs about a move in the summer, but I have nothing agreed and there has been nothing offered.

"I am fine with that. I have been out injured for the last year and a half, I missed 15 months a few seasons back, so there is no reason why the club should hand me out a new contract now. I have played one league game, the Fulham match last weekend and that was great to play in, but that's all I have done.

"So I am not worrying about it. If I start getting stressed about my situation and get distracted by the contract stuff, my game will suffer, and what I need to do right now is get my head down, stay fit, stay in the Blackburn team and show that I have something to offer, that I deserve to be here next season.

"Blackburn have been great to me, I have been here six and a half years now and I'd love to stay on, if they want me. I really want to prove to the fans that I deserve to be at the club. I want to pay back the manager the faith he showed in me," added Reid.

It's not been an easy road to recover for the former Millwall man. He was eased back into action with Blackburn at the start of this season, testing the water with a couple of games in the League Cup. A 5-2 win over strugglers Peterborough didn't mean much to fans hungry for Premier League success, but it meant the world to Reid as he scored in that game.

By November, Reid needed games but Blackburn's top heavy squad couldn't accommodate him so he went on loan to QPR. Which turned into a disaster. He played just twice, once as a late sub, suffered an injury, but with a background of chaos at Loftus Road (manager Jim Magilton was sacked while Reid was there) he soon left and came back to Blackburn Rovers.

Now, touch wood he says, things are going well. He started in Sunday's win over Fulham and hopes for another start tonight against Villa.

"It could be a good finish to the season for me and for the club," he says.

"We're in an ok position in the league, win a few games and we'll move up the table. Win this game tonight and we're in the League Cup final, going to Wembley and with a chance of Europe. It would be amazing to get to Wembley, I played there with Millwall, almost 11 years ago now. Not very glamorous, we lost to Wigan in the Auto Windshield Trophy," Reid smiles. "That was the old Wembley, I'd love to play in the new place."



depressing

Unfinished business with Wembley Stadium, and with Ireland. Again, for Reid the stats make depressing reading. He hasn't kicked a ball in the last 14 internationals. Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews are established as the first-choice pairing in the middle, with Darron Gibson and Liam Miller next in line. On the way up are younger men like David Meyler, a new feature in the Sunderland side and Chris McCann, on the way back from injury with Burnley. Andy Reid, Steven Reid, Lee Carsley and Keith Fahey not even on the horizon as things stand.

Apart from the competition, there's the controversy. A few months back there was a real war of words over Reid, sparked by a strangely-worded suggestion by Trapattioni that Reid's injury was career-threatening. Reid came out promptly and said he wasn't finished; an angry Allardyce stuck the boot into Trapattoni too.

Now, says Reid, it's all sweetness and light. "It was just a misunderstanding, Trapattoni said something but it just got confused and it all took off from there," he said.

"I spoke to Liam Brady and Alan Kelly from the FAI staff and sorted it out. It's fine now.

"I haven't had any contact with the manager or the staff in a while, I have been injured I suppose. But I have been in touch with the players.

"I spoke to a few of them when they were on their way home from Paris, lads like Kevin Kilbane. Losing to France like that was a killer, it will take those players a long time to recover, but we have to get over it if we can.

"And I hope I can play a part for Ireland, now that I am fit.

"It was one of the best moments in my career to play in the World Cup in 2002. We all missed out in 2010 but I would love a shot at the qualifiers for Euro 2012 and, if I'm still around and still wanted, the 2014 World Cup.

"It's up to me now to stay fit and show the Ireland manager and staff that I deserve to be in the squad, and to get the chance against Brazil in London in March would be a dream come true for me.

"I have a lot of hard work between now and then, but I think I have shown I have the stomach for a battle."