DAVIDE Santon says he’s came through the hardest eight months of his career stronger than ever – and determined to break back into the Newcastle United side.
The defender has recovered from the knee and hamstring problems which have sidelined him since April.
And he’s ready to stake a claim for a place in a “new chapter” for the club, which takes on Southampton at St James’s Park on Saturday.
Santon played almost 90 minutes for the club’s Under-21s in Monday night’s 1-1 draw against Bolton Wanderers in front of caretaker head coach John Carver.
And the 24-year-old – who hasn’t played a Premier League game since April – is fit and available after coming through a “difficult period” in his career with the help of his family and friends.
“I played last April, and was out two months with my hamstring,” Santon said.
“After it was six months with my knee, so it’s eight months.
“It’s been a long, really difficult period for me.
“But I’m feeling better and better, and feeling really happy about that.
“It’s difficult. My family helped me a lot – my fiance and my baby and my mum and my dad.
“All the people around me helped me a lot. If you are by yourself, it’s difficult. It’s a long time.”
Santon feels he is physically stronger for the long hours he has put in in the gym during his rehabilitation from knee surgery last summer.
And the full-back – who made his first-team comeback in the club’s FA Cup defeat to Leicester City – now just needs to play.
“I’ve come back stronger,” said Santon, signed from Inter Milan three and a half years ago.
“I’ve been training hard for six months. I’ve been finishing at 4pm or 5pm.
“That’s making me stronger, but I need to keep going and I need to play football. If I don’t play, my fitness level will go low again.
“I just want to play – for my fitness and for myself. I’m 24 years old.”
Paul Dummett and Massadio Haidara have played at left-back during Santon’s absence.
“There’s always been competition for me,” added Santon. “I don’t have a problem with that – I’m used to it.”
Santon left the field late in the Bolton game with a tight hamstring, but he will be fit for the Southampton game.
“I just came out of the game for the last five minutes because I felt my hamstring when I sprinted,” he said. “It felt a little bit tight, so I came off.
“I feel OK. Maybe I’m not ready to play 90 minutes, but I’m starting to feel better.
“I will be fine to be on the bench or play on Saturday.”
Santon was brought to the club by former manager Alan Pardew, who left for Crystal Palace earlier this month.
“I had a good time with him (Pardew) when he was here, and I wish him good luck,” said Santon.
“Now we have to go on to the next page and start a new chapter.”
l NEWCASTLE United’s Under-21s have been drawn against Blackburn Rovers in the quarter-finals of the Under-21 Premier League Cup. The tie will be played at St James’s Park on Tuesday, January 20 (7pm kick-off).