Football: Collymore grateful to be back

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STAN COLLYMORE, the scorer of a Uefa Cup hat-trick for Aston Villa on Tuesday, yesterday thanked the club's physiotherapist Jim Walker for helping to relaunch his career.

Collymore has turned to Walker for more than just treatment in a six- month period dogged by personal and professional problems. Walker, a former Chester player, has been Collymore's friend, confidant and unofficial advisor during the striker's turbulent time with the club.

Last season Collymore scored a meagre eight goals but also attracted attention for his behaviour off the field, which included a fracas in a Paris bar with his former girlfriend Ulrika Jonsson.

But Collymore's hat-trick against Stromsgodset showed what he is capable of when focused on the task in hand. And he gave the strongest public indication of the Walker influence by running across to the Villa dug- out to hug him after his opening goal.

"I dedicated that goal to him and he has been tremendous when working with me," Collymore said. "He has trained me hard but the banter has also been important for me.

"He has kept me down when he has needed to but also boosted my confidence when I've needed it. I owe him a big 'thank you'. It seems like I have been with him for an eternity. Now I'm finally out of his care and back with the lads but I won't forget what he has done for me."

Walker prefers to stay out of the spotlight but he admitted: "Myself and Stan have a good relationship and he comes every day and has a chat with me. He probably gets more attention from me and he likes one-to-one conversations. When he came back early in the summer for training he turned to me.

"With the problems he has had there have been times when he has been very down. Three weeks ago he was feeling very low. But we set our sights on getting him ready for the Uefa game.

"It was nice of Stan to come across to me when he scored and he said: 'that goal is for you'. I was so pleased for him. Hopefully I am more than just a physio. It is your job to be close to the players and Stan is the kind who needs those pats on the back."

Gareth Southgate, the Aston Villa captain, believes he and the other members of the squad can help to keep Collymore on the right track. The England defender said: "The squad have a contribution to make in keeping him right. It is important to keep him buzzing like he was on Tuesday and to keep him in the right frame of mind.

"If things go against him sometimes it does get difficult so it is important we rally around him and encourage him as much as possible. I know how down he has been. He's not really been with us for six months and I know what it meant to him in Norway to show people what he can do.

"There will be harder tests but strikers are all about confidence and that comes from scoring goals."

Collymore's strike partner Julian Joachim said: "Stan has been bursting to get into the team. He has been on the sidelines for a while with his injury and could not wait to start a game. I've sensed an extra determination there. He has had to stand and watch while the team has been doing well and I'm sure he had his mind set on doing well when he got a chance.

"This is like a fresh start for him and I'm sure he is going to give everything he can. He's certainly put pressure on the manager in terms of whom he picks. If I got a hat-trick I would be disappointed if I got left out. You would feel like you were guaranteed to play in the next game."