Liverpool defender Martin Kelly says he is finally ready to fight for a regular first-team place again after recovering from cruciate knee ligament damage.
Kelly has not started a game for the club since suffering the injury in the closing minutes of a 2-1 Premier League home defeat against Manchester United on Sept. 23, 2012.
He returned to training in preseason, and made his playing comeback as a substitute against United in the 1-0 Capital One Cup defeat almost three months ago.
But the 23-year-old has been managed carefully since then as he has built himself back up to full fitness, combining games for the club’s under-21 side with the occasional first-team run-out.
"I don’t think there’s been a mental barrier to get through as such, it’s more about not feeling as sharp as I wanted," he told the Liverpool Echo.
"Ask anyone who has had a long-term injury and they’ll tell you it’s tough to get back to that level you were at before the injury.
"It takes time and it comes back slowly. Now I’m back nearly to peak fitness and I’m ready to go."
Kelly has now made three substitute appearances for the senior side since recovering from the injury, coming on for the final 11 minutes of last Saturday’s 4-1 Premier League win over West Ham.
And the full-back, a graduate of the club’s academy set-up, is hoping for more chances to play as Liverpool face a busy run of fixtures over Christmas and the New Year.
He said: "It was a good chance for me to get some minutes.
"I’m feeling a lot sharper. I’ve been doing some additional training over the past few weeks and I’m ready to push on.
"It has taken longer than I hoped to get back to this level but that’s been brought on by us not being in the Europa League or having much of a run in the League Cup.
"It’s been difficult to get game time as the manager has to pick his best XI to start every game
"I was just made up to get on against West Ham and now I need to keep progressing. I’ve been working hard and I feel a lot fitter than back in preseason."