Hughes puts nightmare in the past

Jeff Hughes (left) celebrates Fleetwood's opener at Orient with Gareth Evans and Antoni Sarcevic
Jeff Hughes (left) celebrates Fleetwood's opener at Orient with Gareth Evans and Antoni Sarcevic
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Jeff Hughes insists he’s just happy to be playing again after a nightmare year.

It’s 12 months since a wild challenge in the opening minutes of Fleetwood Town’s victory over Hartlepool United ended the Northern Irishman’s 2013-14 season in a flash.

A broken leg left the midfielder out of the game for nearly nine months, setbacks in his recovery forcing him to question whether he would ever be capable of playing League football again.

Flash forward 12 months and Hughes is loving life as the anchorman in Town’s midfield.

His man of the match performance at the weekend helped Graham Alexander’s men to a 1-0 victory at Leyton Orient which keeps them in the play-off chase.

“I’m just happy to be back playing,” insists 29-year-old Hughes. “That was always my aim.

“It was setback after setback, and each of those hurts you on a personal level.

“It’s not so much the football – because you’ve always got something to work towards there.

“But when you’re not back in two months, then it’s another month... it’s hard.”

Perhaps the most difficult stage of the former international’s recovery came when he made his first steps back on to the pitch, Hughes finding it difficult to rediscover his touch among Town’s reserves.

He said: “I found it really tough when I first got back in with the lads, playing in the reserve games.

“It just didn’t feel right. You were going for things but it didn’t feel like the ball was falling right. You push off for the ball and it’s not there.

“It gets into your head and you start thinking, ‘Has it gone?’ It’s hard to get back.”

Even after his frustrating nine-month recovery, during which Hughes missed the chance to play in a Wembley play-off final, the midfielder is determined not to let his struggle impact on the way he plays.

And he’s certainly not one to shy away from a challenge.

“It’s just one of them, split second... You just go for it. You can’t hesitate,” said Hughes

“To be fair, it’s very hard to get hurt in a tackle these days. You’ve got to keep your studs down, so the most you’re going to get is a kick.

“You’ve just got to have that confidence.”

Given that he missed last season’s Wembley adventure, Hughes is as keen as anyone in the Fleetwood camp to see Graham Alexander’s side close the two-point gap to sixth spot.

And he believes that having established their League One credentials and shown they should fear nobody, Town are superbly placed to push on.

“We’ve done well in establishing ourselves when we first came into the league,” he said.

“But I think players still look at teams and say, ‘Wow, we’re playing them today’.

“It’s still fresh. We’re looking at sides who were in the Premier League and it’s big for the lads.

“But we’re getting used to it now. We’re playing better.

“I think we know we’re not far away from being a really good team in this league.

“We can build on what we’ve achieved already and if we can keep climbing up the table that would be brilliant.”

Fleetwood now face back-to-back home games against Oldham and Crawley, both struggling for form and consistency.

They were due to round off the month at Bristol City but the game has been pushed back to Sunday February 1 due to the Robins’ Johnstone’s Paint Trophy schedule.