Although pre-season is not the most popular part of the year for footballers, Nick Anderton has enjoyed every sprint and kick of Preston North End’s build-up to the Championship.
The time which the young defender has spent putting in the hard yards at Springfields marked his return to fitness after a bad injury he suffered during a loan spell at Barrow.
In the summer I had the mindset to make sure I was fit for every training session and be available for when I was needed on the pitch.
Anderton broke his ankle and tore ligaments, bringing last season to a premature conclusion.
He was fully recovered in time for the start of pre-season training on July 2 and played in a number of PNE’s friendly matches.
It was in February that the teenager suffered his injury, the damage done a few weeks into a youth loan designed for him to gain experience at first-team level.
Anderton told the Evening Post: “I fractured the outside bone in my ankle and ruptured the ligaments inside.
“I had an operation to put a plate in to help the break mend and to repair the ligaments.
“When I came home from hospital after surgery I set myself a few targets.
“I wanted to come back fighting fit, do everything I could do to make sure I was ready to start pre-season training in July.
“When I did the injury, I knew I would be out for the rest of last season.
“I was actually fully fit to train a week after the play-off final at Wembley.
“Over the summer I did a lot of work, did everything which the physio asked of me.
“The ankle feels fine, it has not affected me at all..
“Psychologically, because of the way the injury happened, I’m not afraid of going in for challenges – it wasn’t a challenge which caused it.
“Barrow were playing away at Leamington on February 21 and I got in front of their centre-forward to clear the ball.
“He fell over and landed on me, it wasn’t something I saw coming.
“As soon as I did it, I knew it was serious.
“Hopefully that is the one serious injury of my career out of the way at the age of 18.
“It might stand me in good stead, knowing that I have come back from an injury as bad as that one.
“I’ve enjoyed all the work we have done during pre-season and the minutes that I have got on the pitch.
“In the summer I had the mindset to make sure I was fit for every training session and be available for when I was needed on the pitch.”
One of the games in which Anderton featured was last month’s 1-0 win over Hearts.
He joined the action in the second half as a substitute and got a far from gentle introduction from one of the Jambos players.
The 19-year-old had only been on the pitch a couple of minutes when he was stopped in his tracks by a challenge which was more rugby league than football.
“It was my first game at Deepdale for the first-team and their lad cleaned me out,” said Anderton.
“I knew what was coming but I had to go in for the ball, what an introduction to the game that was!”
This is Anderton’s second year as a professional at PNE, a club he joined at 16.
Last term’s loan at Barrow followed a month’s stay with Gateshead, both being moves which he found beneficial.
It might be that at some stage this season he goes out on loan a third time.
“We will see what happens at the end of pre-season, that is up fot the gaffer to decide,” said Anderton
“I enjoyed both loans last season, even though I got the injury.
“Barrow were top of the Conference North when I went there at the turn of the year.
“It was good experience, playing for points and the title.
“They ended up winning the Conference North to get promoted.
“When there are league points at stake, it is so much different to playing in the reserves.
“It is hard to explain but the games really count, the expectations on you are greater.
“Being a part of it at Barrow as they challenged to get promotion was brilliant.
“For my first game at Holker Street against AFC Fylde, the crowd was getting towards 3,000.
“I had a great time before that at Gateshead in the Conference Premier.
“It was a learning experience and the players at both clubs I went to were top lads, made me feel very welcome.”
As well as the Hearts game, Anderton played against Chorley, Bamber Bridge, Southport, Carlisle and Ashington in pre-season.
With Greg Cunningham only signing at the end of July, it allowed him and Ben Davies to get some action under their belts in the left-back slot.
That time on the pitch has been invaluable to Anderton as he looks to develop his potential and establish himself in the squad.