PROMISING Southend United centre-backs Sonny Coutts and Dan Matsuzaka have both expressed their delight at returning to action for the Shrimpers.

The young defenders - who have both been on the bench for Blues’ first team this season - had been forced to spend months on the sidelines.

However, the duo are now back in action for Kevin Maher’s under-23 team.

And Coutts - who had been out with a knee problem - is thrilled to have returned.

“It’s always pleasing to return to training and matches when you’ve been out injured for a while,” said the Rayleigh-based 19-year-old.

“It helps you appreciate what you have when you are fit and definitely puts things into perspective.”

Coutts came back for Blues as a second half substitute in a high-scoring friendly at Aveley in mid-February.

The former Sweyne Park School pupil has since appeared against QPR and MK Dons and was quick to praise strength and conditioning coach Jay Collison for his help in getting him back to full fitness.

“It’s been a slower recovery than what I had hoped for, but Jay has been really helpful,” said Coutts.

“He knew when to push me and when to allow me extra rest days after some tough sessions.

“He has got me back to my highest level of fitness in the last couple of years and thankfully I didn’t need an operation.”

However, Coutts - who has been at the club since he was seven - is still keen to push on.

“My first goal is to play 90 minutes,” said Coutts.

“It’s a simple one, but something that I haven’t achieved in quite a while so it has to be done.

“From there I need to get back to my best level, which I feel is coming, to impress the new manager and earn myself another contract.”

And, just like Coutts, Matsuzaka is also determined to impress after regaining full fitness.

The defender - who has represented Japan at under-19 level - was sidelined with knee and quad injuries.

But he is now happy to be back.

“It’s a massive relief and it’s made me realise how much I love playing football,” said the 20-year-old defender.

“The original injury was a bursa in my knee which was causing me problems last season but I was able to get through it and after resting it in the off season it haled.

“But in October the pain came back and kept on getting worse due to overuse which forced me out of football.

“I ended up getting shockwave therapy in my knee and did my rehab to get myself back outside.”

However, Matsuzaka was then hit by a second injury setback.

“Unfortunately the week I was meant to be back training with the team I strained my quad which forced me out for four more weeks,” said Matsuzaka.

“When you are in the treatment room or in the gym and you see the boys outside training that’s when you feel really frustrated and you’ve really got to keep your head.

“When I strained my quad, it felt like I was never getting better but thankfully I’m back now.”

And Matsuzaka, who made his first team debut as a second half substitute in the Checkatrade Trophy against Brighton & Hove Albion last season, is now targeting a successful end to the current campaign.

“I’m aiming to make my League debut and to push on into first team football now,” said Matsuzaka.

“I’ve been in and around it for a few seasons now, so my eagerness to break through is always rising.

“I feel like I’ve done well in the two games I played a part in with the 23s so far and physically I’m feeling the best I’ve ever felt.

“With the manager coming in I feel like it’s a real chance to impress.

“He has already showed good faith in the youth and that gives me that real belief that I could get that chance.”