Blackburn and Ireland striker Leon Best is ready to mark his return from an injury nightmare by booking a place at Wembley.
Best moved to Ewood Park in a £3million summer move from Newcastle after medial knee ligament damage curtailed his season.
Greater misfortune was around the corner as the Republic of Ireland international suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury during a pre-season friendly against AEK Athens.
As a turbulent campaign on and off the field unfolded in east Lancashire, Best worked diligently behind the scenes and finally returned to action as a substitute during Tuesday night’s 1-0 defeat at Bolton.
Rovers travel to The Den tomorrow to take on npower Championship counterparts Millwall in the FA Cup sixth round, with the prospect of a semi-final at the national stadium 90 minutes away, and the 26-year-old is poised to start as on-loan QPR frontman DJ Campbell is cup tied – a potentially triumphant end to a long and arduous road.
“My last game that I played was for Newcastle last February against Aston Villa and I snapped my medial ligament in a tackle,” he said.
“That kept me out until the end of the season with Newcastle and then I made my move and I had the ACL, which is the longest (absence) I’ve ever had, the first operation I’ve ever had.”
Best credits the efforts of those around him, from his family to staff and colleagues at Blackburn, for helping him through the darkest days.
“It knocked me back a bit but I’ve got a good family and good missus and my little boy is still young,” he said.
“It kind of distracted me and that’s the main thing. When you’ve got long-term injuries you need distractions and good distractions.
“I think that got me through it as well as the people we’ve got here. We’ve got a great staff, a good squad and I’ve got a lot of good friends here. It was a matter of everything in one that made it easier than it was.
“When I look back now to the day that I did it, it is a long time ago but it’s gone quicker than I expected and I’m just delighted to be back playing.”
Arriving as he did amid a significant summer outlay designed to launch an immediate return to the top flight, Best might have expected to be entering a promotion push reaching fever pitch.
The reality is a winless run of six league matches that leaves Blackburn 11 points shy of the play-off places with 10 games remaining, seven above the relegation zone.
Boss Michael Appleton is the fourth man to select Rovers’ first XI since Steve Kean, the manager who brought Best to the club, stood down to end his troubled reign at the end of September.
Best suggests his club’s public image this season merely represents the tip of the iceberg, but believes the right man is now steering the ship.
“It’s been frustrating at times with everything that happens behind closed doors,” he added.
“A lot of people just see the results and don’t take into perspective everything else that’s happened.
“We know who our manager is now. We’ve got trust in him, respect in him and believe he can do a good job here.
“It’s a matter of going out there and playing for him.”