From nightmare to a dream: Branden Horton on his league debut for Doncaster Rovers
“As soon as I came on I gave the ball away and I thought ‘oh no, I’m going to have a nightmare.”
It had been a whirlwind few moments for Branden Horton as he made his long-awaited league debut for his hometown club.
The 20-year-old admits he was not expecting to be thrown into action when Andy Butler called him over after 60 minutes of the clash with Oxford United.
And that probably helped the situation for the defender.
“It was a dream come true really,” he said. “I didn’t really have time to get nervous about it. In the space of five seconds I was warming up and then the gaffer was calling me down to come on.
“I didn’t really have time to let it sink in so there wasn’t time to get nervous.
“If I’d have had two or three minutes more to think about it I think I’d have got nervous and I’d have probably played absolutely terrible.
“I didn’t have that time to think so it took the pressure off.
“I gave the ball away straight away but after that I settled down, got into the game and played with the freedom.”
It has been almost two and a half years since Horton’s last senior appearance for Rovers. He started two matches in the 2018/19 EFL Trophy campaign under Grant McCann as one of the hottest prospects with the Rovers Academy set-up.
By April 2019 he had been handed a professional contract - alongside AJ Greaves, who also featured against Oxford - but he has needed to bide his time for further senior opportunities, between loan spells.
His performance in midweek suggested the gap to his next outing will not be so long.
Rovers being 3-0 down upon Horton’s introduction may have given them extra time on the ball and the impetus to attack, but the young full back impressed regardless.
He showed tremendous confidence on the ball, a desire to get forward and an alertness in his defensive responsibilities.
His performance was enough for boss Butler to suggest he had been given plenty of food for thought with his team selection for Saturday’s trip to Gillingham.
“Doing well on Tuesday, hopefully it gives me a bit of an edge to kick on and show what I can do, that I am good enough,” he said.
On his return to the dressing room, he found his phone had been bombarded with messages from family and friends, including plenty from well-wishers in Askern where he grew up.
“I got loads of messages - all my friends and family, everyone,” he said.
“My mum and dad were very excited and they said they couldn’t sleep until they knew how I’d gone on and how I’d played. They were nervous for me.
“The support I get from my family and even Askern, the little village where I come from, is massive.
“There’s quite a lot of Donny supporters around here so I get a lot of messages and support. And I do whatever I can to help out in Askern.
“I get a lot of messages from the lad that runs the Sunday league club and he always asks if I can do stuff to help out. It’s lovely the support, and it gives me that edge to carry on.”
Horton spent the first part of this season on loan with Redditch United in the Southern League Premier Division.
And he believes the spell has been huge for his development.
“I felt good, being out on loan,” he said.
“I was on loan at Redditch and it was great. I played every game and it was a great club to be at. They played football, it wasn’t just kick ball.
“So I felt confident coming back into training and I did well. I got a few bench appearances and I was just waiting for my time.”
Horton - who can also play at centre half - is chasing the nod in a position that arguably brings the strongest competition in the Rovers squad.
Reece James and Danny Amos are recognised left backs with Cameron John also having played in the position a lot under previous boss Darren Moore.
The youngster is not daunted by the competition for the place, and says it is a huge motivating factor.
“It drives me on massively because they’re all great players,” he said.
“Reece James is unbelievable at left back and he can also play in midfield. Danny Amos, just a bit older than me and he’s a great player and Cam John as well.
“It’s a big spot at left back at the minute. There’s a lot of players that are good enough to play in there.
“It keeps me going, having that thought in my head that I can be the best and hopefully cement that spot.
“I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing and hopefully I;ll get the games.
“Injuries are a big thing too at the minute. You never know what can happen.
“We’ve all got a chance with the number of games at the minute.
“You’ve just got to take your chance when it comes.”
Instrumental in Horton’s taste of first team action of course has been boss Butler who a month ago was a defensive colleague.
“It’s been great since he’s come in,” he said. “When he was a player, he was always having banter.“Him being gaffer, it’s a blessing in disguise. As soon as he got that role I thought I could have a chance.
“It's a clean slate and I’ve got another chance to show him what I’ve got and he’ll see it from a different side as gaffer.
“I’ve played a few games with him at U23 before he got the job so I was hoping with doing well in those games that he’d see that and give me a chance.”
And that seems to apply at first team level too.