Exclusive Tom Clarke PNE column

Warming up ahead of the Bolton game
Warming up ahead of the Bolton game
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It was great to be back out there on the pitch when I came on as a late substitute in our much-needed win against Bristol City on Tuesday night.

You could say it was my most pleasing 90 seconds of football I’ve ever had!

Warming-up before Bolton

Warming-up before Bolton

There had been a couple of occasions earlier in the game when I thought I might be needed because lads had gone down with injuries.

As it was, the gaffer put me on for that last bit after we had conceded the goal.

Bristol City were lumping it forward towards the end and it was just a case of me being another body out there to head it clear if needed.

I actually didn’t touch the ball when I was on, the lads did my job for me.

We saw out the game and came away with the 2-1 win which was very welcome.

I had been on the bench against Bolton last Friday but didn’t get on the pitch.

Ahead of that game, the gaffer had asked me about how I felt, how the injury was doing and did I fancy a place on the bench because of all the injury problems we had in the defence.

I wasn’t going to turn that opportunity down, I’d been back training with the lads for a couple of weeks so I felt it was the next step.

Timing-wise, this was about where I expected to be in terms of my recovery.

It was about seven months since I’d suffered the injury and November was a bit of a target.

Ideally, I would liked to have got some minutes on the pitch in a friendly game or two to help me regain my match sharpness, but it has been needs-must.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll do anything I can to help the team as I gradually ease my way back in.

Hopefully I can play in a couple of bounce games soon, in addition to being in the first-team squad.

It was back in April that I ruptured my Achilles tendon and it has been a long road back to recovery.

After I’d had the surgery to repair the damage, there was not much I could do for a few weeks.

I had to wear a protective boot and as I wasn’t using my leg, there is a lot of muscle wastage in the calf.

Because my foot was set at a certain angle, I also lost quite a lot of mobility in my right ankle.

When I was able to start doing work in the gym, it was a case of building-up the calf muscle again and getting more mobility in the ankle.

In recent weeks, I did a lot of one-to-one work with our fitness coach Tom Little.

It was a mini pre-season which was tough going but much needed.

Once I’d got through that I’ve been back with the rest of the lads for the last three weeks, doing everything that they do.

Being out there on the grass at the training ground certainly beats being sat for hours in the gym doing the rehabilitation exercises.

I often had company in the gym and treatment room because other lads have been injured during my time out.

It all got a bit too busy in the last few weeks and the injuries particularly hit us hard in the defence.

When you have got lads out injured at the same time, you all pull together as a group and help one another along.

Having some company and encouragement does help when you are lifting a set of weights or doing another lots of leg lifts.

I’ve got to say how good the gaffer has been to me in my time on the sidelines.

Obviously, I had got the injury a few months before he was appointed in July.

From day one, he was great with me, sitting down for a chat about what he wanted from me and what he expected from his captain.

It was brilliant to have that talk because you can feel a bit out of it when you’ve got a long-term injury.

Throughout the time I’ve been out, he’s had me in a lot to talk about things and keep me involved.

That is testament to him for doing that.

After such a good win at Bristol City, we now turn our attention to facing Norwich at Carrow Road.

If we could back-up what we did at Ashton Gate, it would be a good few days.

I thought the lads played really well against Bristol City.

While results hadn’t bene great leading up to the game, we still went in confident and our performance showed that.

We scored the two goals and it was just a shame that we conceded in stoppage-time – not that it mattered in the end.

After the game, the lads were talking about how well we always seem to do against Bristol City.

It sometimes happens in football that there is a side you get good results against.

On the flip side of the coin, there can be teams you can’t beat.