Byron Webster is on a mission to prove he is every bit the player he was before major knee surgery.The 31-year-old Millwall centre-back saw his last campaign ended in September as he went under the knife after suffering cruciate damage against Barnsley at The Den.
But Webster grafted his way back and won a new 12-month deal in the summer.
The EFL Cup has been his avenue back to first-team football and he has played the full 180 minutes in the tournament – the latest being Wednesday’s 3-2 victory over Plymouth Argyle.
Every outing counts for Webster. He said: “I had never played an U23 game until this year. If you are not injured and you have to go and do it then it is tough. But there has to be that motivation.
“I’ve been injured – so if someone tells me to run through that wall, I’m going to run through that wall.
“I know there is light at the end of the tunnel if I play an U23 game or an U10 game. Whatever it is, I need to get minutes to get to where I want to.
“I had a question about how I keep motivated – the answer is just doing it for my family and to prove I’m the Byron Webster before I got injured.”
There have been those murmurings that the former Yeovil man, such a big figure in their League One promotion season, will struggle to get back to the levels he attained.
“It ended careers 10 or 15 years ago but I had the best surgeon, the best rehab and no problems, touch wood, throughout the comeback,” responds Webster.
“It was an isolated knee injury, nothing else was damaged apart from the ACL. Somehow I carried on the whole game.
“Even though it is a rubbish injury, everything has been done right.
“I have taken my time and the sports science staff at the club have been unbelievable. I was probably training a month before the end of the season and involved in little bits. I did have a summer break but also I was in Southend with a sports science person, training everywhere.
“You never know how far you are off it until a game. You can do all the tests and we have. I’ve improved on running, jumping, weight-lifting – you flaming name it and they have all been improved since before my injury.
“You can only do as much as possible on a training pitch because a game situation is completely different.
“When you have played four, five or six games on the bounce, then you know you are back in the swing of things.”
Webster’s involvement on the Championship stage could come soon due to Shaun Hutchinson, a mainstay of the Lions side last season, being ruled out with a knee injury until October.
Murray Wallace and Webster are the natural replacements, the former starting in Sunday’s loss at Rotherham United.
Webster said: “It’s football and it’s a cut-throat business, isn’t it? You get in the team through injury, suspension or sometimes a loss of form – but even then normally a manager keeps with players to give them confidence.
“There’s a chance there and it’s up to me to take it.”
Webster does not believe that Millwall’s recent league losses have been down to transfer speculation – with George Saville set for an £8million move to Middlesbrough at the time of our paper going to print.
“If you do well you get attention – no matter if that is a footballer or a shop assistant. There is a lot of banter going on and we all speak about it.
“But the results are just coincidence. The expectation around the club is massive. People expect us to win at Rotherham and Sheffield Wednesday, because they have not started so well.
“But we’re not entitled to go to these places and win. We have to put the work in and hopefully results come from that.”
IMAGE BY BRIAN TONKS