Elliott Ward: The darkest six months of my career
Elliott Ward admitted missing out on Norwich City's Premier League adventure has been the darkest time in his career.
The centre-back played a key role in the Canaries' Championship promotion last season and was all set to add to his handful of top-flight appearances, having risen through the ranks at West Ham United.
There was going to be a delay – a knee injury suffered by Ward on Norwich's pre-season training camp in Germany during July was supposed to keep him out for six weeks. Ward's return was pencilled in for the first international break of the campaign, ahead of the Canaries' visit from West Bromwich Albion at the start of September. But six weeks turned into six months – and a journey Ward had to tackle without ever knowing exactly when it would end. Fortunately the final� arrived on Saturday in south Wales, with Ward's first appearance and 90 minutes of Premier League quality his manager Paul Lambert rightly described as 'colossal'.
Ward acknowledged he felt proud to come through the entire game at Swansea after so long out – and relief he can now concentrate on playing his role in what is turning into another memorable Canaries campaign under Lambert.
'Yes, it's pride, it's good; I've had one 70-minute reserves match so to have a 90 minutes is testing but it's probably the best game for me – the lads around me were brilliant as well,' said Ward.
'It has been the darkest time in my career. I've been injured before but you tend to have a time scale and you know how long you're going to be out.
'This one I had a time scale, didn't reach it and it just happened again and again. I got back running and broke down again for something else and it was definitely dark. They were some very, very low points in my career and I just thank those for helping me out.
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'Every time we put a time scale on it I didn't reach it and that was frustrating, and at those times you do wonder what's going to happen and how long it will take.
'It was tough. It's tough when you think you are only out for a short period and it ends up being six months. There have been a lot of ups and downs and a lot of mountains to climb and sometimes you think, 'Is it going to happen?'
'I got a little break away and that definitely helped clear my head and helped my knee out, and from there I kicked on and got fit. I had to stay strong and work a lot with the physios, and I just thank them and my family and my missus for being there for me as well.'
Ward's comeback is ultimately well-timed – Zak Whitbread was some way off making the game in Swansea with a hamstring strain and his centre-back partner of recent times, Dani Ayala, is officially out for a month with the same ailment.
By the time the final whistle arrived on what was a superb win for the Canaries at the Liberty Stadium, it was just like old times for Ward as he found himself playing alongside Leon Barnett – who while being fit, has also found first team opportunities hard to come by in recent weeks.
'It's unfortunate for Zak and Dani – they have been brilliant,' said Ward. 'I've seen a lot of the recent games and they have done well. They have been a big part of why we've done well over the last few months.
'But it's probably a perfect game for me to come back into. Leon has had to be patient as well and he has been brilliant as well this season, and he's unlucky to be out of the team.
'But the way the lads play, everyone has got confidence and sometimes you're not going to get into the team and you have to be patient, and when he came on he definitely helped me out.'