Derby County: Paul Coutts ready to step up return from injury
Derby County midfielder Paul Coutts is ready to push for a first-team recall after more than 12 months out injured.
The 26-year-old featured in a friendly match against Burnley at Derby's Moor Farm training base on Tuesday.
Coutts, initially ruled out for four months after dislocating his kneecap in September 2013, struggled on his first attempt at a return in pre-season.
"Finally I'm feeling good and ready to get competing for a place again," he told BBC Radio Derby.
Coutts, who admitted a hip problem earlier this season was the result of trying to rush back too soon, played 45 minutes in the 2-1 friendly win over Burnley.
|Still waiting to play for McClaren|
|Coutts was injured in a League Cup defeat by Leicester City in September 2013, six days before Steve McClaren was brought in to replace Nigel Clough at Derby.|
"I could have played on, but they are being cautious after a long time out - it is about stepping up slowly," he continued.
"I came back in for pre-season, probably a little too soon to be honest as my leg muscles was not quite ready for the intensity of pre-season.
"With hindsight it is easy to say I was always going to get a niggle or two. It's taken a while to clear up, I tore a bit of my hip flexor and was struggling to get it right. Finally that is behind me and feeling great."
The former Preston and Peterborough man only made 11 appearances last season and is yet to play a competitive game under head coach Steve McClaren.
Under the former England boss, Derby climbed from 14th in the Championship table to reach the play-offs last term before losing to Queens Park Rangers in the final at Wembley.
"Obviously I've enjoyed it as a fan of the boys to watch, but it has been frustrating not to be part of it," Coutts added.
"You just got to keep smiling and be positive around the place because don't want to drag everyone else down because you are having a bad time. It is frustrating, but you have to dig in and work hard."