Slaven Bilić is optimistic that Andy Carroll will prove his fitness in time for West Ham United's Premier League clash against Chelsea next week. The towering striker has not played since notching the equaliser in a 3-1 comeback win at Southampton on 4 February after suffering a groin injury.
Having missed the subsequent draw with West Bromwich Albion, Carroll, winner of the January Goal of the Month award for a sensational overhead kick that helped to defeat Crystal Palace, was expected to return to the bench for Saturday's (25 February) televised fixture against Watford after travelling with his teammates to Dubai for a five-day training camp.
While he was again absent from the match day squad for that 1-1 draw at Vicarage Road that saw a second-half effort from André Ayew cancel out Troy Deeney's early penalty, Bilić remains hopeful that he will be available for a Monday night London derby against Antonio Conte's top-flight leaders amid a debate with his own medical team.
"The guys from the medical department have told me he's going to start training Tuesday or Wednesday," the Hammers boss was quoted as saying by Sky Sports.
"He ran on Friday and Saturday morning with no negative reaction, so hopefully. Me and my medical department are fighting. They say Wednesday, I say Tuesday. Then hopefully four or five days of training, that is always enough for Andy to shine in the next game. So hopefully he is going to be able to play against Chelsea."
Injury-plagued Carroll has scored six goals in 16 total appearances for West Ham so far this term after missing three-and-half months of the early season with a knee problem that took longer than expected to heal. He dealt with a whiplash issue before last month's 3-1 win at Middlesbrough, a game in which he netted a brace before being substituted with a tight groin.
Speaking on his latest recovery before the trip to Watford, Bilić said: "With Andy you never know, if he can run today and train tomorrow then maybe he will be in the squad for Saturday.
"This is not a big injury but he needs to play, he needs to be available and hopefully he will train tomorrow, whether he will be available for Saturday, that would be great but if not definitely Chelsea. He didn't train yesterday but he was in the gym for an hour and a half. He's a big lad, he gives everything and he is looking after himself."
While Carroll will hope to feature against Chelsea, prolific winger Michail Antonio will serve an automatic one-match suspension after being sent off for two bookable offences yesterday. It was the first red card of his professional career.
Defender Angelo Ogbonna has been lost for the season with a long-term knee injury, while Gökhan Töre remains sidelined and Diafra Sakho is still working his way back from persistent back trouble. Aaron Cresswell, Arthur Masuaku and Ayew are all now fit again, however.