Ex-Sunderland striker opens up on his sliding doors moment
Sunderland’s pre-season friendly away at Hartlepool United last season was Andrew Nelson’s sliding doors moment.
With Sunderland relegated to League One, the 21-year-old was tipped for a breakthrough campaign having excelled during a loan spell at Falkirk the previous season.
With a new manager in Jack Ross in charge, the academy product was keen to impress during his friendly outings in pre-season.
Yet a horror foot injury at the Super 6 Stadium, which ultimately required surgery, ended up ruling out the promising striker for four months.
When he returned, Sunderland’s season was in full swing and down the pecking order, his chances of breaking into the side were slim.
Nelson had hoped to go out on loan in the January window but in the end Sunderland sold him to then Scottish Premiership side Dundee, Nelson signing a two-and-a-half year deal.
Nelson, frustrated at not being given a chance at Sunderland, decided a permanent move away was the best thing for him.
It could, of course, all have been so different had fate not struck last summer but Nelson concedes injuries are part and parcel of football as he looks to build a strong career in the game.
Nelson told the Echo: “I was trying to make an impression on the new manager, with minutes limited in pre-season you had to do everything you could in that time to make an impression.
“There was nothing out of the ordinary, the defender tackled me, my foot got stuck on the floor, as I went to push off on my toes, my boot hasn’t come with me.
“The front of my boot was stuck in the ground, I went over the top of my toes and my ankle, my second, third and fourth toe popped out of place.
“The cushion part underneath the sole of your foot are called plantar plates, second one around my metatarsal head was torn, I didn’t realise that until a few weeks after.
“I then couldn’t go out on loan. I went to see a specialist, they said it was very uncommon in footballers, the way the boots are designed is to stop that from happening.
“It was just a freak injury, it is normally rugby players and dancers as they are on their toes more.
“It was infuriating but at the same time it was such a freak accident and there was nothing you could do.
“It kept me out for four months, I had surgery in September to get it sorted and it took another six to eight weeks after that.”
When he returned it quickly became clear that he may have to look elsewhere for regular first team football, despite Sunderland playing in the third tier.
A short - but successful - loan spell at Darlington followed.
Having grown up at the Academy of Light, it was always going to prove a difficult decision to leave Wearside, but he knew it was the right one in January, for the sake of his career.
Nelson, who had previously had loan spells at Harrogate Town, Hartlepool United, Falkirk, joined Dundee on a permanent deal. Sunderland have a sell-on clause as part of the deal.
Nelson said: “I thought I might have been involved at Sunderland in some shape or form but missed out on an opportunity to start the season and be involved and then to face a setback and try and work as hard as I possibly could ahead of the January window and then not be given that opportunity, it was frustrating.
“That’s football, though. I thought I’d go back out on loan in January, I was hoping I’d get some experience at least to bring me back up to speed.
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“There was players coming back from injury.
“I knew that if I’m not going to play football - I am 21 now which is young but old for an academy footballer - then I had to get out.
“If I wanted to make a decent living from the sport then I had to leave and expose myself to it.”
Ross, speaking in January, said: “He’s 21 now, he needs to be playing football and progressing his career.
“The opportunity there for him was sensible to pursue.”
Nelson scored four goals in 14 appearances for Dundee in the second half of the season, the striker, sadly, part of a squad that finished bottom of the Scottish Premiership.
Nelson will use the pain of relegation to inspire him heading into the new campaign, the young forward convinced he is a better player for the experience.
Reflecting on a disappointing campaign, Nelson added: “The team started picking up points at one stage but then we just hit a run of games where nothing was going for us.
“We conceded in the 95th minute against Celtic having played brilliantly against them all game and something like that to happen, it knocked our confidence and it seemed to happen game after game.
“It was frustrating as well for me because I was having to watch it from the sidelines, I was injured for a couple of weeks.
“You want to go out and do something and make a difference but you can’t do it, there is that frustration.
“I feel like I’ll be a much better player for it though. As horrible as it is, those kind of experiences are often the best lessons.
“Now the objective is to try and win promotion and I don’t see why we can’t achieve it.
“We all have that motivation and drive to achieve that now.
“There are some good talents and good teams in Scotland, I think people get a surprise at how good the standard is up here.”
And for Sunderland?
The striker, who watched the play-off final defeat on TV, is confident the Black Cats will do the business second time round and achieve promotion back to the Championship.
Nelson added: “There has been massive improvements at the club, I keep in touch with the lads.
“The club deserves to be in the Championship or the Premier League but you have to earn the right to be there and I don’t think it will do us any harm being League One for another season, using that experience from last season.
“It is not nice for the club to be in this position but they are and they have to find a way out and I’m sure they will.”