Lee Frecklington has revealed how he put the brake on his return from ankle surgery in a bid to ensure his long-term fitness for Rotherham United.
The Millers captain has paid the price in the past for rushing back after injuries and broken down again soon afterwards.
But, following his first appearance in two months in Saturday’s 2-0 Championship defeat at home to Aston Villa, he is hoping that a more measured approach has paid off.
“I’ve had to calm it down this time,” he told The Star. “I found myself going from being injured to playing a game to being injured again. That’s just through enthusiam and wanting to play. Sometimes, that can be a hindrance.
“This time round, me, the medical staff and the management have said: ‘Look, you have to come back when you’re ready.’ I feel like I’m ready now.”
Frecklington’s frustration should be behind him, with an operation making his troublesome ankle stronger than ever.
“That’s what they’ve told me and all I can do is take the surgeon’s word for it,” said the 31-year-old midfielder who has been restricted to 16 games in the 2016/17 campaign.
“He’s put a graphite ligament in there and said it’s unbreakable almost. If all goes to plan, hopefully I won’t have any more problems. It feels great now.
“I hate missing games. Unfortunately, this year I’ve missed the majority of them. It makes you more hungry to get back and play. There are 11 games to go and I hope to feature in all of them.
Frecklington, who came on as a substitute against Villa, could start against Brighton at New York Stadium on Tuesday as the division’s bottom club have been hit by more injuries.
Right-back Stephen Kelly limped off early on Saturday with Achilles trouble, Danny Ward had to stay off at the interval after suffering a blow to the head and Jon Taylor was substituted on the hour mark with a back issue.
“Tayls took a kick after about 30 minutes and his back stiffened up at half-time,” caretaker manager Paul Warne said. “Wardy took a crack to the head. At half-time, he said he was okay to play, but when he stood up he felt sick.
“I’ll be amazed if Kelly is fit because he felt his Achilles. That would be the best recovery I have ever seen in human nature.
“I don’t know if Wardy has concussion. Taylor is made of stern stuff so I think he will be all right if he just has a dead bum cheek.”
Striker Dexter Blackstock was absent from the squad with a knee problem.
“He has a sore knee,” said Warne. “I saw him at the gym this morning (Saturday). He was on the cross-trainer and it is a bit sore when he does a certain movement. He gets a bit of pain just above his knee. Whether he is available for Tuesday night is doubtful.”
The Villa defeat left Rotherham 18 points adrift of safety, and Frecklington said: “It’s very disappointing, but the way the management team are looking at it now is that we just have to forget about where we are in the league, take each game individually and try to perform better in each one of them.
“If you start dwelling on where you are in the league and how badly things have gone, it’s only going to get worse.”