Never mind scoring his first goal in two years, and sealing Hartlepool United’s first home win in seven months, Matthew Bates is just grateful his injury nightmare is at an end.
The Pools defender has returned to first-team action lastweek, playing three games in just six days, having almost fully recovered from bone bruising which kept him sidelined since August.
Despite suffering a catalogue of potentially career-threatening knee injuries, Bates says his latest spell on the sidelines was by far and away his most frustrating.
Speaking after his 80th minute header ensured Pools beat Cheltenham 2-0 in League Two on Saturday, sealing their first victory at the Northern Gas & Power Stadium since a 2-1 win over York City back in April, former Middlesbrough defender Bates said: “It has been a long frustrating eight or nine weeks for me.
“I initially thought it was going to be two or three weeks.
“It was a strange one really.
“I went for the scan and they told me it was bone bruising, my initial thoughts were ‘brilliant - I will be straight back in’.
“But, as we all know, it didn’t turn out like that.
“It has been a nightmare for me.
“It’s been a long road back. Much longer than I ever thought it would be.”
Bone bruising really doesn’t sound like such a bad problem.
And that’s exactly what Bates thought, but the reality of the issue is very different.
Bates said: “It was one of the most frustrating I have had.
“With my knee problems at least I have known what to do.
“With this it was just rest.
“Sometimes bone bruising can be as bad as a break because it is lots of breaks inside the sheath of the bone.
“It has been a tough one to take.
“I was just wanting to crack on and train and play but I couldn’t.”
Having played 90 minutes against Stamford, then 90 in the Cheltenham win, as well as having a 45 minutes in the Checkatrade Trophy sandwiched in between, it’s fair to say it’s been a busy week for the experienced campaigner, who last week was described by manager Hignett as a Premier League defender.
While some may fear he has pushed it too far, so soon after a return to action, Bates says it has been the perfect week.
“It was a nice week,” said Bates.
“There has been no reaction at all. Thankfully.
““I got a bit of fitness built up last week, then more minutes in the week.
“I am nowhere near it but getting there.
“I will just crack on. I have got a full week and have to do as much training as I can in the next week and prepare.
“I still feel it now but thankfully I don’t have a great left foot so don’t use it too much.”
It is absolutely no shock that in a week when Bates returns Pools, with the added experience and know-how the central defender brings, Pools have kept two clean sheets out of three.
Bates is keen not to take too much credit for it, though.
He is also keen to pass on the plaudits for his goal, his first since October 21, 2014, against Accrington, to provider Lewis Alessandra.
“It was the free-kick that was great, I know I have to say that, but it was,” said Bates.
“I knew they were playing man-to-man.
“I just started in an off-side position from the back post and ran across them. I hoped the defenders would drop before the ball was kicked and they did.
“I knew if I got a little hair on it, it would go in.
“To be fair the gaffer told us about the long balls. So I can’t take too much credit personally. As a team we defend. Even the biggest clubs in the world do that.
“The strikers worked hard to close down the initial balls.”