Sam Stanton believes he’s ready to kick on again and stake a claim to make his place in the Dundee United starting line-up his own.
The early-season form of the midfielder, who’s on a season-long loan from Hibs, suggested he could be in Ray McKinnon’s XI for the whole campaign.
But an inability to train normally because of a bout of tendonitis in his knee eventually took its toll on the 23-year-old and, for the past couple of league outings, he’s had to be content with coming off the bench.
Saturday’s dramatic Irn-Bru Cup win over Linfield, however, saw him get 90 minutes as he turned in a strong performance as one of the “old heads” in a very young team.
Stanton has revealed that having barely been able to train during the week for just a month or so, he’s closing in getting back to a normal workload.
“I’m back training three times a week now when before I was only training once or twice, depending on how I was feeling,” he said.
“Over the last three months I’ve been working with the physios to improve it and it’s now only the one day, usually a Monday after the weekend game, I’m missing training.
“It has been a problem but it’s something I’m working on and, even in the last couple of months, it’s got a lot better. I’ve been given exercise programmes and there are one or two other things I can do to, hopefully, get it away. It’s just one of those niggly things that you sometimes get.
“It definitely helps it’s something I know will go away — that gives me peace of mind and I know I can get rid of it myself.”
A player who just wants to get on and play, that Stanton admits it’s been a problem gives a hint to just how much discomfort he’s been feeling at times.
After his impressive 90 minutes at the weekend, his focus is now on forcing his way back into the starting line-up, though he concedes the team’s recent good form means that will not be easy.
“I had a good start when I came here but I’ve been out the team the last couple of games and the boys have done well.
“That’s just football, I’ll get my chance again and I have to make sure I will take it. And as long as the team is winning and we are picking up points, that’s what you want.”
One thing his fitness issues haven’t affected is the feel-good factor at United.
Two big league wins have seen Ray McKinnon’s side close in on the top of the Championship and Stanton believes a young team’s Irn-Bru win over a streetwise Linfield outfit points to a bright future.
“Linfield were a good team with a lot of experienced players and we had a very young team.
“You consider I was one of the oldest players out there at 23, so the boys did well the way they handled it.
“I did enjoy being one of the older ones. It was different and it felt nice having to help other people play and have an influence on those around you.
“No matter what age you are, when you’re one of the older players it’s what you need to do.
“But the young boys were great. There are some good players there and they put in some good performances against what was a very good team, so it was great for them.
“They were a very physical team and even big Patrick (N’Koyi) up front had a very tough battle with their defenders — and he’s a very strong guy.
“It’s valuable experience for the kids and it’s been good for them to step up from the U/20s to play against men — there were some good pros in the Linfield side.”