Mansfield Town striker Rhys Oates has set his sights on a return to action in early December as the 27-year-old continues his rehabilitation on the ruptured pectoral muscle he suffered in Stags’ 5-2 win over AFC Wimbledon last month.
Last season’s top scorer netted his first of the campaign in the victory over the Dons but was unfortunately withdrawn in the second-half due to the nature of his rare, but serious, pectoral injury.
The electric forward has been cheering on the Stags from afar. Oates was at Eco-Power Stadium to see Mansfield dispatch Doncaster Rovers this month and is targeting a return to action ahead of a busy Christmas period.
Speaking to iFollow Stags at a news conference for the first time since the injury was sustained, Oates said: “I think we just need to progress on the strength work.
“I can do all the running and things like that, so it’s not been a problem keeping fit.
“I’ve been going on the bike and doing leg weights and stuff like that since probably a week after the operation.
“It’s just kind of knowing [my limits] and progressing slowly.
“I said [I’d like to return for] the first game in December at the start. I think that’ll take it to about three months [since the injury was sustained], so I’ve always had that in my mind.
“You’ve just got to see how it goes.
“We had good news from the surgeon last week and he said I had progressed more than he was expecting.”
When asked how he’s handled being away from the pitch, the Pontefract-born striker said: “[I’ve been] Sat at home, watching the games on iFollow.
“[I’m] Not sure [if] there has been a home game on a Saturday since I’ve had the operation.
“I went to the Donny [Doncaster Rovers] game away.
“It’s strange. I’m still cheering at the TV, cheering the lads on and stuff but it just makes you want to play even more when you’re sitting at home watching it rather than being at the game.
“When you’re up in the stands you can see the full pitch and you can see different pictures and stuff like that but it's different when you're on the pitch and it seems a lot more rushed and stuff like that because of the tempo.
“It doesn't seem as quick when you’re not playing, but when you’re in it it's a lot quicker than you think.”
The extent of Oates’ injury surprised many, including boss Nigel Clough. The forward went into details of the incident.
“I slipped and landed in an awkward position, and I think their centre-half landed on top of my arm and it fully ruptured the tendon in my pec [pectoral muscle],” he said.
“It was an unfortunate event really, no fault of anyone's, just unfortunate how I landed and the fact he landed on top of me. It just went under me and ruptured.
“It hurt at first. I heard something tear, but the pain went more or less straight away.
“I think the nerves and everything ripped off with it, that's why there wasn't much pain but it didn't feel great.
“I knew it wasn't a dislocated shoulder, but I knew it wasn't going to be anything good.
“I was gutted, when we first realised what it was. They said it could potentially be four to six months [out] so I was gutted about that.
“We then saw the surgeon and he said maybe around three months, so still a long time but just got to take the positives that it’s not four to six [months out].
“I had the operation a week later; I had ten days off just total [rest days] letting it heal. Then slowly started light movements and isometric stuff to try and get the strength back in my shoulder.
“Last week I tried a little jog, I think I’m going to do a bit more over the coming weeks.
“It’s progressing well and then I just need to get the strength back into my shoulder and back to get full movement.”
In the absence of Stags’ number 18, Lucas Akins and George Lapslie have formed a formidable partnership in attack.
“I think it’s worked well. I think we played that formation for the first time against Wimbledon when I got the injury and Laps [George Lapslie] has done great in that position [behind the striker].
“[He’s been] Floating around and getting into pockets and coming up with goals and things like that.
“I think the formation has worked well throughout since I’ve been injured and Lucas [Akins] has been class upfront, holding the play up, setting it off and getting his goals as well.”
Despite the striker not being able to feature, he expects a difficult match from his former side Hartlepool United who visit One Call Stadium on Friday night.
“I’ve been keeping an eye on them,” said Oates.
“I think it’s hard to know what they’re going to be like having a new manager come in.
“We need to expect the unexpected.
“Obviously they haven't won yet, but you never know [what might happen] when they have a new manager.
“He [Keith Curle] could change things and they could play a totally different style.”