Doncaster Rovers midfielder Ben Close makes several frank admissions after injury nightmare

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Appearing in a Papa Johns Trophy group game being played in a stadium at less than a quarter of its capacity is hardly a career highlight for those lucky enough to play the game professionally.

But so far the bar has been set pretty low at Doncaster Rovers for Ben Close. And at times he has felt far from lucky.

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“It’s probably one of my best nights in a Rovers shirt,” he tells the Free Press after his first taste of competitive action in ten months – a 45-minute cameo in Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Lincoln City in front of 2,338 fans.

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Ben Close takes control of the ball against Lincoln City.Ben Close takes control of the ball against Lincoln City.
Ben Close takes control of the ball against Lincoln City.

“It helped winning the game but just to be back out on the pitch and feeling like a professional footballer again, it was definitely one of my highs.”

An injury to the IT band, more common in runners and cyclists than footballers, has restricted Close to just 18 appearances since his arrival from Portsmouth last summer.

“It was a strange one to pick up,” he admits.

"It was just incredibly tough to find a way to heal it.”

When standard rehab failed, injections followed. They too failed, leaving Close with no option but to go under the knife.

"I have never been out for this length of time,” says Close, 26, who admits his extended spell on the sidelines was the hardest time of his career.

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"In the end I just didn’t feel like a footballer and that was incredibly frustrating."

Nonetheless, as it often seems to, time out brought with it perspective and subsequently maturity.

“You take football for granted; it might be a freezing-cold day in the middle of winter and you’re out on the training pitch thinking ‘I would rather be inside today’.

"I don't think I’ll ever feel like that again. I can’t wait to get back to full fitness now.”

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Close is not a new signing at DN4, but, cliché as it might sound, it feels that way.

There is still a sense of mystery about what sort of central midfield player he is, given so little has been seen of him.

"I can play a couple of roles in midfield and do a bit of everything,” he says.

"I like to get on the ball and link play, I feel like I have really improved my pressing game over the last few years.

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"When I’ve been in really good form I’ve been scoring goals as well. If I’m going to play well I want to be doing all those things.”

If an eye-catching first 45 minutes was anything to go by, Close could be an important player for Doncaster this term.

It was he who wanted to come off at half-time with his boss happy to let him play on for longer.

How long might it be until he feels ready to declare himself fully fit?

"I felt like 45 was enough tonight,” Close says.

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"I’m really happy getting through that. The next step will be to increase the minutes on the pitch.

"I feel like tonight was a big box ticked.

"Off the back of a few bad results every player should be thinking their chance is coming and be ready to take it.”