Brighton & Hove Albion midfielder Andrew Crofts admitted it was an emotional moment for him to make his playing return against Preston North End at the Amex last weekend, and says his aim now is to help the Seagulls maintain their excellent start to the season.
Before completing his first 90 minutes since his return from a second anterior cruciate ligament injury, Crofts walked out with his six-year-old son Ryan as one of the mascots for the game.
Crofts told seagulls.co.uk, "It is hard to describe what it has been like. It has been the toughest time of my career. In the early days, no one sees the pain you're in or how you're feeling, apart from my family.
"My family have been through everything with me. That's why I walked out with my son and it was a really proud moment for me.
"That was a motivation for me early on; I wanted to get through the tough times and walk out with my boy for my first start. He's six years old and was really excited. It was a really proud moment for me and he was absolutely buzzing to be beside me."
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Crofts feels it will take him a bit longer to get back to the level of form he was at prior to his original injury in January 2014.
"It's been a tough time, but hopefully that's behind me now and I want to embrace the challenge and get back to where I was before.
"It was great to start the game and to finish it. I felt comfortable, I felt fine. I had a couple of games where I came off the bench, but now it’s onwards and upwards.
"The aim is to keep that match fitness and sharpness and hopefully we can keep the run going. Personally, it's going to take a bit of time, but I'm going to keep working hard, keep getting my match fitness.
“The club have been brilliant, and the support from the players, the staff and the board has been fantastic - so a big thanks goes to them. I've had some great support during these tough times and that's when you know who the people are that you can rely on and who's loyal to you."
Meanwhile Crofts says he expects a battle for his place and rates the current squad as the strongest he's seen during his two spells at the club - but says there is still a long way to go this season.
"It is up there with the best since I've been here. The first couple of years we were really close, but last year we had a blip.
"This year we've started unbelievably but there's still such a long way to go as a team and that's why it's important we’ve got a strong squad and we definitely need that. We’ve got a lot of good players and a really good team spirit."