TOWN star Tom Clarke’s encouraging return to full training will be cemented by a run-out in tomorrow’s opening pre-season friendly at AFC Emley (7.30).
It will be the 19-year-old defender’s first match involvement since October 14 last year, when he damaged his left knee during the 2-1 home victory over Carlisle.
The England Under 19 cap was left needing a full reconstruction of the joint and knowing his season was over.
It’s been a long and lonely road back to fitness for Clarke, whose frustration was compounded when elder brother and teammate Nathan also suffered a knee injury which needed surgery.
Now both are nearing full fitness, and while Nathan is a little further on, Tom has done enough to earn the chance to play some part of the Welfare Ground game.
“It’s great news for Tom, and I’m sure being part of this match will be a big spur for him,” said manager Andy Ritchie, who also intends to play centre-back Nathan against the Northern Counties East League Division I hosts.
“I’ve been really pleased with the way he has trained so far.
“He’s champing at the bit, but we’ve had to hold him back from time to time for his own good.
“At this stage, resting at the right time is important, so he won’t be playing the full 90 minutes or anything like that.
“But he took part in a tough session yesterday and said it was the best he’d felt since returning to training, so it’s fair to give him a chance tomorrow.
“Returning from an injury like Tom’s can be a lonely experience.
“You have to go through the pain barrier during rehabilitation and be really motivated through those sessions in the pool, on the exercise bike and working through those laps of the training ground.
“You look over and see your mates playing football, and that makes it even tougher, but Tom has shown real character and just got on with it.”