It’s been a long journey for Jack Ashton but the defender is now back in the thick of things at AFC Rushden & Diamonds - and playing like he’s never been away.
The popular centre-half recently returned after more than a year on the sidelines with a serious knee injury.
Having got himself back to full fitness, he played a couple of matches with United Counties League side Daventry Town before Andy Peaks called on him on New Year’s Day.
Ashton has now played three games in a row for Diamonds, all of which have seen them keep clean sheets.
It’s been an extremely satisfying spell for the defender who admitted he simply “got his head down” after surgery in a bid to return as quickly as possible.
“I have had a long journey,” Ashton said.
“When I saw the surgeon after my operation, he said it could be anything from eight months to 18 months.
“I think it was eight-and-a-half in the end. I got my head down, I was determined. Once I was on my feet I was in the gym because I just want to be out there playing football.
“I didn’t rush it. I did everything properly and I probably feel as fit and as strong as I ever have done.
“With an injury like that, getting games at a lower level was the right thing to do.
“Sometimes you need a clear head space just to make sure everything is alright and you can ease yourself back in.
“And then I was fortunate enough on New Year’s Day to come back into the side because of illnesses and other things and I took my chance.”
Ashton’s return has come during a spell that has seen Diamonds put themselves in pole position as they bid to win promotion in the Evo-Stik South League East this season.
They are currently unbeaten in 12 league matches and are two points clear going into this weekend’s clash at Fleet Town.
Ashton missed a penalty as Diamonds were beaten in a shoot-out by Premier side Hitchin Town following a 0-0 draw in their BigFreeBet.com Challenge Cup tie on Tuesday.
But the defender added: “We lost on Tuesday but there were plenty of positives to take. I thought we were solid as a unit and we played some really good stuff. We were unlucky not to win in normal time.
“We will move on to Saturday and we can concentrate on the league because that is our main priority and that’s what we want to win.
“We are on a great run. We are just going to worry about ourselves and make sure we keep ticking them off.
“We have got a great set of lads and if there are injuries then it’s been shown that there are players who are more than capable of coming in. We are just in a really good position at the moment.”