Notts County defender Manny Smith is back and says: "It feels so good!"
MANNY Smith gave his crutches back the other day – and said: "It felt so good!"
The Notts County defender, 24, caused a bit of concern when he arrived at St George's Park for training on Thursday morning because he got out of his car and then pulled a pair of crutches out of the boot.
But it was quickly dispelled when he strolled across the car park to the changing room with them under his left arm and handed them back to the club's medical team.
Smith then went off to training with his team-mates and says he is targeting a return to action before the end of the year, having finally recovered from a long-term knee ligament injury.
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He took a big step towards making his comeback by playing 45 minutes in a friendly against Derby County this week.
He will play in another game next week and then hopes to be back in the first-team frame.
"It's been nice to be back outside training with the lads, even though it's freezing!" said Smith. "I felt good playing the second half against Derby.
"It was good to get on, it's been a while.
"It's the first time I've been out injured in my career so I just wanted to get back out on the pitch, I just wanted to play.
"I think I could even have started the match and played for longer, but I've got to take it easy getting back into it because I've been out for so long.
"I'd only trained twice before it as well so there is no way the gaffer was going to give me 90 minutes.
"It's all about getting my fitness back up now through games. There is another game next week so hopefully I will play a bit longer."
Smith is used to being patient, having been out since the opening day of the season.
The centre-back suffered the injury way back in August just 40 minutes into his debut for the Magpies in the first round of the Capital One Cup against League Two Bradford City.
He stretched to clear a cross into the penalty area, landed awkwardly and was carried off on a stretcher.
He admits it was a nightmare start to his career at Meadow Lane, after signing on a two-year deal in the summer.
But he is now looking forward – and is determined to play his part in the second half of the season as Notts chase promotion to the Championship.
"It was the last thing I needed, but I got the backing from the manager," he added.
"He told me to take my time to come back because you can't rush back from injuries like that because you can make it worse and be out for even longer.
"I'm back now and the games are coming thick and fast so hopefully I will be involved.
"I feel good now, I feel stronger and ready to go.
"My aim was to be back for the FA Cup against Rotherham.
"I never made that, but I had some game time this week and hopefully I will get more next week and be back in the fold from then. I've not felt any after effects, no cramp, no tiredness, nothing.
"I wasn't even worried about my knee during the game because I know I have done all of the strengthening work.
"I knew I was good to go so I just wanted to get out there and play – I've been counting down the weeks."
Smith was signed as one of the Magpies' new first-choice centre-backs, alongside Dean Leacock, and the two were beginning to form a formidable partnership during pre-season.
But he will now face a big battle to establish himself alongside Leacock because Gary Liddle has been in outstanding form in central defence so far this season and Notts have also signed Jamaica international Damion Stewart while Smith has been out.
It is a challenge Smith is relishing and, with the Magpies in the League One play-off spots ahead of facing Yeovil Town at Huish Park today, he wants to help them go on and clinch promotion to end a season that began so badly on the biggest high of all.
"It's been a difficult few months, but I've stayed positive and I'm here now for the second half of the season," he said.
"The lads have done brilliantly while I've been out and we're in a really good position in the table.
"All of us want to win promotion and it would be nice to be involved now and help us push for that – that's what I'm looking forward to."