BENDIGO City skipper Aidan Lane says he is relishing being back on the pitch again after missing the bulk of the club's debut season in the Men's State League.
The 22-year-old got through his return from a knee injury unscathed in a 4-1 victory over Maribyrnong Greens last weekend.
It was his first game for the MSL 5 West season.
Lane even found himself among the goal scorers, his 11th-minute strike giving City an early 2-0 lead on the way to breaking a seven-game drought between wins.
Four of those seven games were draws for Bendigo City (5-3-6), whose scheduled round 15 game this weekend has been postponed until Saturday, August 6 due to a raft of COVID infections within the ranks of their opponent Surfside Waves.
Lane, who had been sidelined since injuring his knee in a pre-season game win over Gisborne, was rapt to get through last week's game without any complications.
"The knee feels pretty good - I probably won't tape it this week. I taped it on the weekend for the first week back, but I trained Tuesday night and it felt really good," he said.
"I reckon I probably won't have to wear any more tape, which is promising.
"It was about 15 weeks since I had played, which has been a bit frustrating. There's only so much you can do from the sidelines to help out - it's mainly just watching.
"But it's really good to be back playing. Sport is the main thing I do every day really, especially being involved with Bendigo Futsal.
"When you can't do those sorts of things, it's a struggle."
Lane's frustration, like the Bendigo City's form, has come in two stages.
First, he missed the team's bright start, which had City in third spot on the ladder with a 4-0-2 record, and only one point off top spot after a 7-0 win over league powerhouse Barwon in round six.
But the irritation really kicked in during a spate of seven games without a victory from rounds seven to 13, underpinned by those four frustrating draws.
"It was great early, getting those good results, but it was definitely harder to watch once we went into a bit of a patch where we couldn't get a win," he said,
"We obviously drew a few games, but most games we played pretty well.
"When you have such a young team against such big bodies, it can be challenging.
"It'e been a bit of a learning experience for a lot of the younger players, playing against these big bodies.
"But I'm sure it's something that will help them and the club going forward.
"For me, it's good to be back and hopefully we can have a good second half of the year and build a few things for next year.
"I haven't had a long injury like this for a couple of years, so it's been really challenging."
An undoubted bright spot for Bendigo City has been the performance of the club's reserves team, which sits atop the ladder with an 11-2-1 record, level on 34 points with Melton Phoenix.
Both Lane and senior playing coach Greg Thomas have hinted the club would look to continue to reward promising performances in the reserves with senior promotion as the season edges closer to its end.
READ MORE: Bendigo City back on winner's list in style
With an impromptu week off, Bendigo City's next game will be an away clash against Ballarat SC on July 2.
Lane said the club would be looking to finish the season on as high a note as possible.
"Winning promotion is not realistic for us, but now it's all about building towards next season and getting as many good wins as we can over the next few weeks," he said.
"(After Surfside Waves) we've got Barwon coming up, which will be a tough game.
"But we want to challenge ourselves and we want to see some of the young fellows coming through, so they can step up next year and take some of the responsibility."
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