Owen Hargreaves could be back in the first-team picture at the beginning of next month.

The Manchester United midfielder played 45 minutes of a 2-0 win over Burnley for United's reserves on Thursday night to end an 18-month absence through injury.

And while the 29-year-old is keen not to push himself too quickly, Sir Alex Ferguson already has a comeback plan in place, and said: "I am delighted for him. He has been out of the game for 18 months, which is very difficult. He will need a couple of games more with the reserves. After that he should be back in the first team squad. It is a good one to get at this time of the season."

Hargreaves was forced to undergo surgery on both knees to try and combat a tendinitis problem that affected him before his £18million arrival from Bayern Munich in 2007.

Although the England star still experiences an element of discomfort from the injury, Ferguson feels he can use the example of skipper Gary Neville - who was sidelined for even longer by a succession of muscular complaints and went on to make a successful return - as proof the battle can be won.

"We have experienced of this long interval without playing with Gary Neville," said Ferguson.

"Owen has the advantage of being a younger man. Hopefully now he is back for a continued period."

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