ALEX SMITHIES will have knee surgery on Monday with manager Lee Clark predicting the England age-group keep will return better than ever.
The 21-year-old has suffered a recurrence of the problem which kept him out of the final two months of last season, but the manager is confident this operation will provide "closure" for the player who is on the verge of 100 appearances for the club.
"We want to get it done and sorted and get Alex on the road to recovery," said Clark, who has keepers Ian Bennett and Nick Colgan ready to face Rochdale at Spotland tomorrow.
"I can draw on my own personal experiences to help Alex in this, because I had two spells out with horrendous Achilles injuries, and I know the issues that can be involved.
"It can be stop-start and you are not too sure when you will be playing again - and then it becomes a little bit of a lonely road.
"I was in the physio room at hours of the day I didn't know existed and that's where the mental side of things kicks in.
"You have to keep people positive and I have had the conversation with Alex, because as a keeper it's a little bit different for him as well."
Clark added: "When you look at Shay Given, he is 36 and has just signed a five-year contract at Aston Villa taking him to 41 - so if you track that back to Alex he's got a lovely 20 years to look forward to in the game so, for the sake of a couple of months to get things right, he can look forward to another very enjoyable 20 years.
"It will be fine and Alex is a sensible lad, he knows and understands how things are. He will do everything that is asked and, likewise, we will do everything we can for him and he will come back fine - we are 100% certain of that.
"In fact, he will be even better because he's come through this. Time on your own gives you time to reflect and think about things and, if you handle it in the right way, you come back a stronger person - and Alex will."