Craig Stanley eyes Aldershot survival after injury return
A serious injury comes as a blow to any professional footballer but being forced into a lengthy spell on the sidelines just after joining a new club must be worse.
Midfielder Craig Stanley joined Aldershot Town last summer on a free transfer but then broke his leg and suffered ankle ligament damage in their final pre-season friendly.
Following surgery and almost eight months out, the 29-year-old finally made his competitive debut for the Shots in their 1-1 draw with Port Vale on Tuesday.
"It's been hard for me," Stanley told BBC Surrey.
"It's been the most disappointing season of my career so far.
"The last three months or so I've been training, I've been doing extra fitness work with the fitness coach Russ Clash and physio Mike Preston.
"I've got to give credit to them as they've got me into the shape I am in."
Understandably short of fitness following his injury, Stanley has been frustrated as he looked to gain match practice.
"I honestly didn't think I'd play this season, just because I am lacking in match fitness," he said.
"Due to finances the club haven't got a reserve team and it's been hard to organise games as we haven't got enough numbers.
"I can understand the gaffer's decision to leave me out of the squad or be on the bench and not come on. Basically, other lads are fitter than me.
"I had a match last Friday in a trial game for players who are looking to get contracts here for next season.
"I played 90 minutes in that and the results from my heart rate monitor showed I'm not in bad shape considering I haven't played much."
Stanley was an unused substitute six times for the club before Shots manager Andy Scott decided to hand the former Bristol Rovers man his full debut following that run-out last week.
"Craig has been banging on the door in the last two or three weeks saying he has been ready to play but it has been difficult to put him in as you don't know how he is going to respond," said Scott.
"He has been out for eight months and hasn't had a 90 minutes under his belt. His performance against Port Vale showed he is capable.
"He has worked really hard and done a lot of extra work as we want to get him to the right level.
"He keeps it simple and has got a good brain on him. He did very well and I am delighted for him."
Aldershot are battling relegation from League Two, and Stanley accepts their current situation meant he needed to be patient.
"I vented my frustration to the gaffer a couple of times I went to see him," Stanley said.
"He was honest with me and told me he thought I wasn't ready.
"I think he liked what he saw on Friday and thought I was up to pace so that got me the chance.
"I got the nod and I'm very happy to make my debut against a big club. At times I was blowing a little bit and I'm sure I'll feel it.
"Now hopefully the manager has seen what I can do.
"He knows about me having played against his teams before but hopefully I can keep my place and stay in the team to make sure we can stay in the Football League."
The club's struggles on the pitch this season have been as frustrating as Stanley's lay-off.
Aldershot's poor results saw Dean Holdsworth, the manager who signed the former Walsall trainee last summer, replaced by Scott in February.
The Shots are currently one point from safety with a game in hand and having now made his competitive bow, Stanley hopes he can help the EBB Stadium outfit avoid the drop to Blue Square Bet Premier.
"We have continuously made little mistakes and at times we haven't learnt from them," he said.
"On the ball in certain circumstances we can do better.
"At times we have taken the lead and should have won games and maybe as we are a young team, we haven't learnt from mistakes we have made.
"That is frustrating as I think we are good enough to stay in this league.
"We have got our careers to play for. Aldershot needs to be a Football League club next year and I am hoping we will be.
"We are still in with a fighting chance and we are working hard in training.
"Everyone knows the next couple of weeks are the biggest in our careers and I will fight as hard as I can to make sure we stay in the League."
Craig Stanley interview by BBC Surrey's Steve Gibbs.