SWINDON Town manager Mark Cooper does not expect Alex Smith to return to competitive action until “well into the new year”.

Smith underwent a knee operation at the beginning of last month, and Cooper had previously suggested the utility player could regain full fitness before Christmas, but the former Fulham man’s recovery has been slower than Town had hoped and it now appears he is several months away from a comeback.

Meanwhile, Tijane Reis is still no closer to his return to training, though the Portuguese winger, who has also gone under the knife, is back in the gym.

Cooper told the Advertiser: “Alex Smith is slow progress so we’re certainly looking well into the new year for him. I think from the surgeon going in and seeing the damage the prognosis changes a little bit. Longer than we thought, yes.

“Tijane is further forward than Alex. Alex has just come off his crutches, Tijane has started on the treadmill now. He’ll be going to St George’s Park to do some work again and I think we’re looking around Christmas for Tijane.

“Injured players just want to get fit and it’s tough when you’re on your own and you’re in the gym, but you just have to do it. The more rehab they do and the harder they work the quicker they’ll get back.”

Cooper was philosophical about the prospect of clubs coming in for the on-loan Tottenham trio of Alex Pritchard, Ryan Mason and Grant Hall in January.

Director of football operations Lee Power told the Adver earlier this week of the possibility of the three players being nabbed in the new year, but Cooper stressed contingencies would be in place if that happened.

He said: “It’s not a fear, that’s life. It happens. You play well, you coach well, you manage well and other teams come for you. It’s a fact of life and it will never change.

“If it happens it happens, I hope not. Whether teams are going to come and pay the money that Spurs want for them I don’t know. I certainly hope we keep them for a long time.

“I’d sit down with Lee and discuss targets for next year, for January, and there’s provision in place if we do lose anybody.”