AFTER TRIPLE BLOW, JOHN IS JUST GLAD TO BE BACK...
LAST summer John Brayford had to contend with play-off heartbreak, the first serious injury of his career and the sacking of the manager who twice brought him to Bramall Lane.
But the Sheffield United full-back dusted himself off, got stuck into his rehab and returned late last year as though he had never been away.
It was a knee injury, sustained in the first leg of last season’s play-off semi-final with Swindon which delayed Brayford’s season debut until late November.
It looked as though the 28-year-old hadn’t missed a minute though, slotting into a back four that conceded just twice in a five-match unbeaten run since his return.
That run came to an end in a 3-2 defeat against Peterborough last weekend but with the Blades edging towards the play-offs once more, Brayford won’t dwell on that for too long.
“It was nice to come back and win a few games, and it’s a shame the run came to an end last weekend,” he said.
“It wasn’t meant to be but it was probably one of our best performances in recent weeks.
“The confidence has started coming through in the last couple of weeks, so Peterborough was a bitter pill to swallow.
“But it’s about time the football club got out of this league.
“For the fanbase they have got here, they deserve to play at a higher level. Hopefully we will be in the mix.”
After a frustrating 2015, Brayford was free to enjoy an early highlight to the New Year yesterday when the Blades took on Manchester United at Old Trafford in the FA Cup third round.
It is a competition in which he has previous success with Sheffield United, reaching the semi-final while on loan from Cardiff two seasons ago.
Following a short spell back in Wales, Brayford joined the Blades on a permanent deal 12 months ago and it is a decision he looks back on with satisfaction.
“I came up to Sheffield on loan and had a good time up here, and I just felt like I wanted to go back,” he recalled.
“I knew I was going to be playing and that is what I wanted at the time. I fell in love with the football club and enjoyed the way of life.”
The decision paid early dividends when United finished fifth in League One but they were denied a trip to Wembley by a bizarre ten-goal draw at Swindon in the second leg.
Brayford’s frustration was compounded by the fact he had to watch from the stands, having left the first leg injured.
“I didn’t even think anything at the time and played on for 15 or 20 minutes,” he said.
“I got the results a couple of days later and it wasn’t great but it didn’t kick in until the lads came back from the summer and started playing games. “I went down to Swindon with the lads and I will probably never see a game like that again.We were 3-0 down after 15 minutes. When we got back to 5-5 I thought ‘Christ, we are going to get another one here’.
“It was disappointing not to get promoted – I just wanted the lads to do well. It wasn’t meant to be and it was a bit of a disappointment but I didn’t really think about myself.”
Add to that the news that Nigel Clough, who had managed Brayford twice previously, was sacked at the end of the season and there was plenty to sulk about.
However, new boss Nigel Adkins has filled the void, placed his faith in Brayford and ensured things are looking up once more.
“I didn’t expect him to get sacked,” added the defender.“It was a bit late in the summer, not just after the second leg – but the new gaffer has come in and has been great.
“He has popped me straight back in and I’m going to try and repay his faith in me.”
ON TARGET: Peter Crouch enjoys his goal
UPBEAT: John Brayford