Michael Owen admits he took to the field in Manchester United's FA Cup win at Southampton fearing he might have to wait another three months for his next start.
Saturday's 2-1 fourth-round win at St Mary's saw Owen named in Sir Alex Ferguson's XI for the first time since October. The 31-year-old, who was also making his full FA Cup debut for the club, has started just 15 games in total during his injury-blighted Old Trafford career.
Even when fit, the former Liverpool and England striker has found his chances few and far between, putting extra pressure on him every time he pulls on a United shirt. So his vital equaliser came as much as a relief to the player himself as it did to the travelling fans.
"The last time I started a game was Scunthorpe away,'' said Owen, understandably forgetting he was also in the XI at Sunderland a couple of matches later. "I have been injured in the meantime but, when you do play, you have to perform. I did all right. It takes the pressure off a little bit.''
Owen, whose job was made all the more difficult by being asked to play at the tip of a midfield diamond, added on MUTV: "It is frustrating, obviously, because you always want to play a bit more. But I am old enough and wise enough to know the manager's problems and the amount of players he has to keep happy.
"The hard bit is when you get asked - and your opportunities have been few and far between - the pressure is really on to play well. If you don't, you will get your criticism and all the rest of it, but you will probably have to wait another three months for a chance.''
With Wayne Rooney and on the on-fire Dimitar Berbatov very much Ferguson's first-choice strikeforce at present, Owen is in a similar boat to fellow forward Javier Hernandez, who netted the winner. However, unlike Owen, 22-year-old Hernandez is only just beginning his career.
"He is definitely a goalscorer,'' said Owen, who is well-qualified to assess his Mexican team-mate. "At the moment, he is a really good impact player. Maybe he doesn't score all the time but he always looks a threat.
"But there is a difference between starting and coming off the bench. I know as well as anyone it is much easier coming off the bench. Look at our last two games. We had a strong team out at Blackpool, we were 2-0 down after an hour. You put on a couple of substitutes and people think they changed the game. But it is easier to come on. Everyone else is knackered with 20 minutes to go.''