Blackpool have been plagued with injuries throughout their Championship return season but Matty Virtue and Grant Ward have suffered most.
The midfield pair have been long-term absentees with Virtue yet to play for the club this season, whilst Ward left the field with an achilles injury in the away draw with Bournemouth on August 21 – and has been absent ever since.
It has been a long road to recovery for the pair, with many more hurdles to jump before they are able to return to action for the Seasiders.
Fortunately, central midfield options have improved in recent weeks with the return of Kevin Stewart taking the load off of Kenny Dougall and Callum Connolly – but the return of two players with the quality Virtue and Ward possess would be a welcome bonus.
Ward’s contract at Bloomfield Road expires at the end of the season, with no option available to trigger, which leaves his long-term future at the club unsecured as of yet, but the midfielder will hope to make some form of impact before the season is out.
Virtue hasn’t featured for Blackpool since March 20 last year after a scan revealed he had torn his ACL in the 2-0 away victory at Oxford United.
Nearing a year out of action, Virtue is edging closer to a return, however caution will be taken with the midfielder given the long layoff.
Neil Critchley confirmed to Lancs Live that Virtue is further ahead in his progress compared to Ward: “Matty Virtue is ahead of Grant Ward, so Matty’s been out on the grass and training, he’s doing sort of a hybrid model of training.
“He’s doing most of the training, he does a little bit on his own still, he’s following a slightly different programme to everyone else because he’s in a completely different physical situation to everyone else.
“Obviously we go from game-to-game in rest and recovery mode, Matty needs a little bit more than that at this moment in time so he’s sort of following an individual pre-season for himself.
“But he’s looking really good, he’s doing more in training, he doesn’t look out of place and it’ll just take him a little bit of time.
“We don’t need to hurry that, we don’t need to rush that, it would be unnecessary. Maybe we get a couple of games in the next few weeks where it would be nice for him to start to build up a little bit of match minutes.”
As for Grant Ward, a ruptured achilles tendon required surgery which took place in early September last year and he is starting to bare weight in a more intense fashion as his recovery regime steps up.
“Wardy’s behind Matty, so he’s been doing a little bit of running but that is alter-G running (anti-gravity treadmill) where it just takes a little bit of your body weight,” Critchley said.
“So he’s starting to put a little more loading through his achilles but so far, so good again.
“He’s working so hard in the gym.
“Wardy and Matty are working so hard, they’re top people, top professionals and I know it’s been frustrating, it definitely has, no player likes being out and being injured.
“But the way they commit to coming back, they can’t do any more, they push themselves to the limit and hopefully at some point they will see the benefit of that.”
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