Fleetwood keeper Chris Neal says mental strength has been the key as his patience was rewarded with a return to league action at Oldham.
Christmas came late for Neal, who had spent more than a year warming the bench after Alex Cairns’ meteoric rise.
Cairns’ elevation in November last year was followed by an 18-game unbeaten run. This term the roles have been reversed, with 32-year-old Neal drafted in for his experience after a run of one win in 12 league games.
Having been recalled for the 2-1 win at Oldham, Neal is hoping to keep the gloves tomorrow at Bury.
But he says the goalkeeping union is still strong, with he and Cairns supporting one another.
Neal said: “It had been over a year since I made a league start. It has been difficult at times and that is down to team performances and Cairnsy’s performances as well.
“I’ve had to be patient but it is so nice to get back on the pitch and play a league game.
“If the lad who is in front of you is playing well, you can’t really argue. You just have to be patient and hopefully your time will come.
“It has been tough coming in and training every day knowing you are not going to get the reward, but that is when you have to be mentally strong. I’ve been around the game a long time. I’ve been in this position before and I know that eventually your chance does come.
“We are both professionals. We know what the script is. I know how Alex is feeling now because I had that last year, so I will support him like he did me.
“We have a great goalkeeping union. We all get along well and we will all help each other as much as we can.
“Hopefully I can stay in the team but I’m not taking anything for granted.”
Neal hopes victory at Oldham is the start of a climb back up the table.
He added: “That was a game we needed to win. It probably was not as pretty as it could have been but sometimes you just need to get those three points.”
“If you see the blocks and the tackles that we made against Oldham that has maybe been missing over the last couple of weeks.
“We had meetings and we know what we have got to do as a squad, we know we have got the ability in the squad to get ourselves out of this situation and “Oldham is just a stepping stone to move up the league.
“Disappointing it was try and hold on as long as you can but sometimes that is just football.
“We showed our character in the last few minutes to grind out a result and that is what we are going to do moving forward.”