Midfielder Mike Jones missed out on 20 games last season through two separate spells of absence as he nursed a nasty ankle injury, picked up first in the away game against Luton in December and then again when Cambridge visited Brunton Park in March.
Surgery, rehab and a host of extra sessions have been the order of the day on the road back to full recovery and another huge step was taken on Saturday afternoon as he played the full second half of the away friendly at Blyth Spartans.
Speaking after full time at Croft Park, he said: “It was very nice to be back out there. It’s been a long road – in fact it’s been nearly five months – so I’m absolutely buzzing that I’ve got that under my belt. I just want to kick on now.
“The good thing was that I didn’t think about the ankle at all today. There was a lot of adrenalin, because it is really good to be back, and I’m the kind of person that when I need to be getting in quickly or doing something with a bit of sharpness I don’t feel anything at all.
“It’s usually only in my head when we’re doing the slower and plodding type stuff. The ankle felt good and I felt fine fitness wise, so it’s nice to get this first test out of the way. Hopefully I’ll get more minutes next week so I can keep building on it.”
Noticeable on Saturday afternoon was the way he came through a hefty series of challenges with nothing more than a smile on his face.
“The meaty challenges give you confidence because you know you can go in and give everything to get the ball,” he told us. “Sometimes you need that little test of a tackle so that you know you’ll come through it.
“You definitely don’t want to be going into a league game wondering about it, so having had a game like this I know my ankle is strong enough to cope. That’s really pleasing.”
I couldn’t be any hungrier now and I want to help to make sure we go one better ...
“Being honest, it killed me having to miss out on the second half of the season and I didn’t enjoy having to watch the lads at all, particularly with what happened in the play-offs,” he explained. “I couldn’t be any hungrier now and I want to help to make sure we go one better.
“We have to get promoted this season and hopefully I’ll stay fit so that I’m playing my part. I’m confident that will be the case.”
And speaking of confidence, we wondered if the goals and clean sheets had brought a positive feeling to the dressing room as the build-up to the new season continues to roll on.
“It doesn’t matter who your opposition is, you still have to beat them,” he commented. “We want to take a winning mentality into the league and we want to do well this year. When it comes down to it if we want to get promoted we have to be winning games.
“Even in this game it was a tough first half and the step up in level of the opposition was there to see. That’ll happen again next week at Halifax and then again for the Blackburn match. In the end we could have scored a few more in the second half so we just have to keep our foot down and keep the momentum going.
“We have a decent looking squad at the moment and there’s competition for places everywhere, and particularly in midfield. That’s why I’m keen to show the gaffer I’m back, I’m fit and that I’m where I was before the injury happened. Hopefully I’ll give myself the best chance possible to be in the starting eleven for the Swindon game.”
With the players and staff talking openly about another promotion push we asked if it was something which was genuinely within the club’s reach this time round.
“We’re good enough - but we can talk about it as much as we like,” he said. “That’s one thing, but we also have to go out and do it. There’s no point just talking about it, or going on about things like the unbeaten run we had last year, because the fact is we have to make it all happen this season.
“We have to get out there and produce. The areas we need to work on are there for everyone to see. We need to cut the goals out at the back, because we conceded far too many last year. For me, that’s what cost us, so we need to sort that out.
“With the creative players we have here we know we can score them at the other end. When you have Shaun Miller and Hallam Hope in the form they’re in we’ll always score goals. Ultimately we just need to keep the back door shut a bit better and we’ll be fine.”
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