Port Vale’s academy graduate James Gibbons returned to action as a substitute against Walsall, a moment which brought tangible relief for the 22-year-old after an injury sustained in the 3-1 Papa John’s Trophy victory over Wigan Athletic in the first week of October.
Gibbo gained another 45 minutes of playing time during the midweek defeat to Scunthorpe, making a positive impact in the second half following a triple substitution at the interval.
“It’s brilliant [to be back], obviously the results have been disappointing but for me personally, to be back on the pitch after nearly four months out is massive for me and my confidence.
“Hopefully, I can kick on and get a good run in the side now.”
After such a significant spell on the sidelines and enduring his first major injury, Gibbo understands the need for the coaching staff and club physios to exercise caution in his phased return to action.
“I think the worst thing I and the physios could do is throw me straight in for 90 minutes as training has been quite broken up due to the weather.
“I needed a good week of training and demanding week on the hamstring to know I could cope with it. I think the 5-10 minutes on Saturday then the 45 on Tuesday was perfect for me.”
Whilst many players returning from a lengthy injury layoff can approach matches with a degree of caution and adjust their game accordingly, Gibbo is confident that the rehabilitation time taken to return to full fitness should pay dividends.
“It’s not really [in the back of my mind], I have been doing it all in training and up at St Georges doing sprints so I know it can cope with it.
“When I did the injury it was a freak movement that caused it, it wasn’t my doing it was just a freak accident and I am glad it’s strong now.
“I don’t want to change my game or think about it too much, or it will only affect my performances.”
Going forward, Gibbo has set some personal targets following his return.
“I want to get back to where I was before the injury. I had a good run of form pre-season and came back the fittest I’d ever been, then got the knee injury and came back again, then got the hamstring injury so I am getting there fitness wise.
“When I am fully fit that’s when I am at my best, so hopefully I can finish the season with a good run of games and get my form back.”
Now he is back in the fray, the tenacious right back is hoping his return can coincide with a positive upturn in results.
“That’s what we are all looking to do [improve results]. We have been unfortunate this season with injuries and people isolating but that’s no excuse… so it’s a massive chance on Saturday to turn it around against Southend as they are in a similar situation to us at the minute, so I am sure it will be a good game.”
Whilst Gibbo wasn’t involved in our Halloween trip to Roots Hall, he feels the squad can take confidence from the previous encounter with the Shrimpers.
“I watched the game on iFollow and we played well. We know how to play against Southend as we have matched up against them before, so I am sure if we do what we know we can do and get back to how we can play before this run of form then we will fancy ourselves.”
With Danny Pugh returning to Vale Park on Wednesday after observing his period of isolation following a positive coronavirus test, Gibbo admitted his presence will be a welcome boost to the squad.
“He wouldn’t have liked being away from the lads for nearly two weeks, he wants to be in and around the lads as much as he can because he’s the manager for the time being and however long that may be, he will make the decisions and choose the team on a Saturday.
“It will be good to have him back and get a good week of training with him.”
Gibbo also discussed the extra work both he and captain Tom Conlon have been putting in to maintain peak physical condition.
“I’ve been doing some extra work [in the gym and with club physios] just to keep on top of the hamstring, Tom’s a good pro as well so he will do his extras and cool down properly. We both did a light cycle and the ice bath which is never nice, but obviously it all helps with looking forward to the next matchday.”
Whilst Gibbo has been required to watch much of the 2020/21 season from afar, he shared some personal insights on what is required to force our way back amongst the positive results.
“I think the results we have had going against us have been down to individual errors, I don’t think we are a million miles off. Like Tuesday [against Scunthorpe] when you go two goals down you have a mountain to climb.
“I think if we can get back to basics and cut out those individual errors, we have got more than enough ability and capability to go and score goals, we have just got to tighten up on the errors and I am sure we will hit the run of form we have before.”
Looking towards the final 20 games of the Sky Bet League Two season, Gibbo is hoping to add to his goal against Morecambe during the 2019/20 campaign but is more focused on the defensive aspect of his game.
“It’s always an aim and obviously nice to get on the scoresheet, but the defensive performance comes way before that. You’d rather take a clean sheet than when I scored in the 2-1 defeat, I’d have rather taken a 0-0 instead of scoring!
“As a defender you have to pride yourself on clean sheets and solid defensive performances rather than goals.”
Speaking on the mood in the camp and confidence levels ahead of Southend, Gibbo is confident the Valiants possess the quality required to bounce back from our recent run.
“Every team hits a bad run of form and unfortunately over the last two months we haven’t hit a good run. There’s no need to hit the panic button and get down about it, because we know we are more than good enough to get ourselves out of it.
“With the squad we have got, it could just be the case of one result turns it around – hopefully that will be on Saturday.