Defender Kellan Gordon is targeting a return to the line up for the first time in almost 10 months as Stags prepare to face his old club Derby County in the Carabao Cup first round tomorrow night.
The 24-year-old has not played since the end of October and only made eight appearances last season before a knee injury put him out of action.
The former Rams’ player has had several setbacks since but is now aiming for a starting shirt after a long road to recovery.
Talking at RH Academy – the club’s training ground – at a news conference on Monday morning, Gordon said: “It’s been a long hard road for me personally to be fair. It’s been tough. I feel like it’s the hardest I’ve ever worked since I’ve been off.
“I feel good. It’s probably the best I’ve felt in a long time. I’m trying to keep the routine I had when I was off and make sure I do everything I can to stay fit. Hopefully I can put myself back into the team.”
Kellan has returned to training in tip-top shape and has added almost 10KG in bodyweight over the close season.
“I left myself no option,” he said. “I had to put in some serious work and make sure I was in the best physical shape I could be.
“I just wanted to make sure I was in the best shape to come back in and I think I’ve done that.
“It hit home at Wembley, when I was on the pitch [before the game]. I felt the fire back in me. It gave me a belief being back on the pitch in front of the fans and an extra drive to think that I needed to get back out and play again.
“People won’t understand how tough I found it last year. I was in a tough place at times. Friends and family kept me sane. I put the work in off the pitch but when you’re on your own it can be mentally draining in the gym. I had to find it from within
“I can see the training pitch from in the gym, watching people train whilst I was stuck in there. Trust me, it’s tough. You want to be out there on the pitch playing football. But I got there.”
Gordon could return to the field tomorrow night against the club with whom he started his professional career.
Reflecting on his time at the Rams, he said: “[I’ve] Nothing but positive memories. It was the club I signed my first professional contract at. I made a lot of good friends and met a lot of good people.”
The former Stoke trainee was excited about the possibility of playing at right wing-back tomorrow night: “I want to get back in the team and get back playing with a consistent run of games.
“Right wing-back suits me down to a tee, [with his] pace and athleticism. The defensive duties are still there [to be performed] but I feel I can offer a lot going forward. It does excite me and suit me.”