Seb Larsson has seen much in his long career, but he has yet to take a stroll in a Checkatrade Trophy tie.
That will change at the Stadium of Light tonight when he continues his return to match fitness in a Group F match against Notts County (7.30pm kick-off).
Now I am just happy to be kicking a football without painSEB LARSSON
His last appearance on the Stadium of Light turf was the memorable May night when Sunderland clinched their Premier League safety with a 3-0 thumping of Everton.
The midfielder was brought on for the final 20 minutes to guide the Black Cats home in a feverish atmosphere in front of 46,454 fans.
While there will be considerably more empty seats than occupied ones for this evening’s Checkatrade Trophy match with the ‘other’ Magpies, there will be no complaints from the Swede.
The 31-year-old is back way ahead of schedule following medial knee ligament surgery in the summer.
Larsson was forced to admit defeat to a long-standing problem, but insists that, now he is back, there is no long-term problems – in fact, he feels it is as good as new.
“I was hoping it would go away without having an operation, but that wasn’t the case,” he explained.
“People always say that when you have an operation on your knee it can have long-term effects, but I was always very confident that wouldn’t be the case.
“It was just a matter of repairing the MCL, which is a ligament that once repaired you should have no issues with it, and that’s how it feels at the moment.”
Larsson said that his summer surgery actually came as a relief, having tried to play his way through the pain barrier.
“Everyone has problems, everyone has niggles, but you don’t like to talk too much about them,” he said.
“You deal with them yourself and do the best that you can. For me, it was the MCL ligament that needed repairing.
“It was the same injury that I was out with for a while last year and it is one of those problems that has developed gradually over time.
“I saw a specialist last year and, as you would always try to do, we wanted to see if we could get it right without an operation.
“It got better, but then it flared up again in pre-season, and in one of the sessions I felt it almost go, so there were not many options left except surgery.
“I have to be honest, though, and say it was something of a relief to have the operation because the injury was something I have been struggling with for about 18 months.
“As long as you don’t need the operation, you try to manage it and get by, but you realise that when you are not reaching anywhere near the level you can do, it is frustrating.
“Now I am just happy to be kicking a football without pain.”
Manager David Moyes was delighted with the progress made by Larsson, though he admitted he was reluctant to let him play in the Under-23s’ Premier League Cup match against Blackburn at Hettom last Friday.
But he acceded to the player’s wishes and Larsson breezed through the opening 45 minutes in the 1-0 win.
Larsson will get more time tonight against League Two Notts County and will feature when Andy Welsh’s U23s stage their opening Premier League International Cup tie against Benfica at Eppleton CW a week on Friday.
“I’m lacking match fitness, but you do everything else you can to be as close to match-fitness as you can be,” he said.
“The only way to get match-fit is to play games and I just have to make sure I am ready when the manager tells me.”
Given he will almost certainly line up against Benfica, he will not be involved in the crunch first-team Premier League clash with Hull on November 19, but expect him to be in the mix for the trip to Liverpool the following Saturday.
Moyes has bemoaned the lack of midfield numbers and experience, but should Larsson come through tonight’s appearance he will be that step closer.