Rotherham United have had to hold back Jonson Clarke-Harris for more than eight weeks as the young striker bids to put his lost year behind him.
The 22-year-old is so desperate to return after damaging his cruciate knee ligaments in pre-season that he has been pushing to step up his training before medical staff have given the all-clear.
He was finally allowed to join in full-contact work this week, ahead of schedule, and is expected to be in contention for his first appearance of the Millers’ Championship campaign next month.
“He has wanted to come back for the last two months, even though he has not been ready,” first-team coach Matt Hamshaw, who suffered a similar injury in his own playing days, told The Star.
“He can’t run before he can walk. It’s a stage-by-stage process.”
Clarke-Harris, who required surgery after limping out of the July friendly with non-league Parkgate FC, has been buoyed by the news his rehabilitation is almost complete.
“His frame of mind is great now,” Hamshaw said. “It hasn’t been great over the course!
“When you love doing something as much as Jonno loves playing football and have it taken away from you, it’s not easy.”
Bottom club Rotherham, who could be relegated if they lose at QPR tomorrow and other results go against them, plan to hand Clarke-Harris some match action during the fortnight-long international break which follows the Loftus Road clash.
“We will look to get him a friendly where he can get some minutes,” Hamshaw said.
“If he has two weeks of training, fingers crossed, we should see him in league action at some point before the end of the season.
“I had a cruciate myself and I know how difficult it is to come back from.”
Clarke-Harris, Rotherham’s record signing when he joined from Oldham Athletic for around £350,000 in 2014, is out of contract at the end of the season and the club have yet to reveal if he will be offered a new deal.
Hamshaw believes the Millers could have a bigger asset on their hands if the striker, who has scored nine goals in 53 games for them, does stay.
“I think he will come back a better player,” the coach said. “I think players can take things for granted and he has now seen what it is like to not play. I think his mental state and his application will improve tenfold.”
Clarke-Harris agreed, saying: “I think it might have been good for me in a way to have a year out of football and just watch from a fans’ point of view.
“It’s given me a new perspective on the game and I’m just raring to go.”