By Dan King - Newcastle United Club Reporter
It's taken months of hard work on treadmills, in the gym and with punchbags but Ryan Taylor is getting ever-closer to returning from the knee injury which has kept him out of action since August.
And the 28-year-old - feted by the Newcastle fans for his winner at the Stadium of Light in August 2011 - believes he could be back in time for this season's Tyne-Wear derby at St. James' Park in April.
Taylor was carried off in the early stages of Newcastle's Europa League fourth qualifying round second leg tie against Atromitos after landing heavily as he hurdled a tackle and was left on crutches for several weeks.
However, after stepping up his recovery with the help of a state-of-the-art anti-gravity treadmill at the Magpies' Benton base, he has been able to resume running outdoors in recent weeks and is now nearing a return to full training.
"I'm about five-and-a-half months into my rehab so there's hopefully not much longer left," he told nufc.co.uk in an exclusive interview.
"I haven't really got a date or a game in mind but one game I would love to be back for is the derby - and it's a realistic target to be aiming for that.
"It's seven or eight weeks away and I'd love to be in contention for that game. But I've just got to see how the next few weeks go and hopefully then I can join back in with the boys and enjoy the last six weeks of the season.
"It wouldn't be a setback if I didn't make the Sunderland game - it's just a target. It could be the one before or it could be the one after, or two after.
"But I'd just love to be back for that game. It doesn't even have to be my first game - it could be my second or third - but that's the target and I'd love to be involved in it.
"With the boys doing well, I'd have to fight for a place on the bench at the minute but I'd just love to be a part of it and to be honest I can't wait for the buzz again, to arrive on a matchday a couple of hours early as you do in the build-up to games.
"It'll be weird but I'm really looking forward to it."
Taylor watched Newcastle's 4-2 win over Southampton after returning from a short break in Dubai, which was built into his programme as he prepares to enter the home straight of his comeback.
And although a few days in the sun was welcome, it was also a reward for the gruelling sessions he has been putting in - and will be followed by even more intense work as he builds his fitness back up to Barclays Premier League standard.
He explained: "They say anything between six and nine months, that's when you're due to come back, but a lot of players and staff leave it until the full nine months just to be on the safe side.
"But everything - touch wood - so far has gone really well. I've had no setbacks and I've worked as hard as anyone. The physios will probably be back me up on that one and I think that's why they gave me a well-deserved break last week just to go and have a rest and then come back and kick on again.
"It was just a case of 'go and cut training right down to a minimum and get away for a week,' because for the best part of five-and-a-half months I've just been in the gym and I only started going out (to run) after four months.
"It can drive you up the wall on a daily basis but we've had targets over the injury and the rehab and one target was to go and have a break. Leading up to it, I was looking forward to it and now I'm looking forward to getting back training - that's the next target.
"Two or three times a week I'm here for half seven, doing boxing with Micky (Holland, masseur) and the staff - but I'm trying to get fit whereas I think they're just trying to lose weight!
"But it's a good blow and it gives me three sessions a day. I'll do that and then I'll do my work with Hendo (physio David Henderson) in the gym and do running, then I've got a strength and conditioning session at about half two with Simon (Tweddle, fitness coach).
"I'm always one of the last to leave and then I'll be the first one in but I think that's only right, because it's up to me to get fit. In five months - and doing nothing for the first two or three - you can put on a bit of weight but I look after myself so it's just been a case of getting my head down and cracking on.
"The only plus is I've been here before with injuries so that's helped me in a way. This isn't as long as they were. If I make it back after seven months then it's not as long as what I have been out for in the past so it'll be okay."
Taylor admits that the long days and regular routine can become tedious, but is now looking forward to joining the rest of his team-mates after weeks of being indoors and working by himself.
"You just know what you're going to do on a daily basis," he admitted. "It's not boring, as such - I actually enjoy it because it's good, tough work and they put through your paces here. Hendo doesn't ever take it lightly on you or cut it down by a minute or two - if anything, he adds it on. It's always good work and I enjoy working with him.
"Even when you're injured, football is a dream job so it doesn't really get boring. I've had some days where I've been a little bit down or what have you, just because I have been out for that long, but you get through them.
"And now I can see the light. I'm almost there."
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