It’s an indication of how long he’s been out for that the last time Sam Hoskins pulled on a Cobblers jersey prior to Saturday, Justin Edinburgh hadn’t even taken his first training session as manager of the club.
With that in mind, it would be fair to say that a lot has changed in the nine intervening months between Hoskins’ 73rd and 74th appearances for the Cobblers.
While Town have stuttered and stumbled on the pitch under different managers, the 24-year-old has been working hard off it in desperation to get fit having suffered a cruel blow halfway through the most successful season of his short career to date.
Edinburgh had been appointed only days earlier, and while trying to impress the new man in charge in training all the way back in January, Hoskins ruptured his cruciate ligament in his right knee and, for nine months, that was that.
It’s been a long and presumably frustrating road to recovery but, finally, he’s back in Cobblers claret and the relief, both for him and everyone else at Sixfields, was clear for all to see when he was thrown on as a 75th minute substitute with Town chasing an equaliser in Saturday’s game against Bradford City.
The equaliser did not arrive but, for Hoskins, whose introduction was greeted by the loudest roar of the afternoon, there was every reason to smile at full-time.
“It’s great to be back,” he admitted. “Obviously it was a bad injury but it feels really strong now and I feel stronger than I have before.
“I always tried to be as positive as I could.
“I’ve had the physios here who’ve worked with me from day to day and I’ve just been positive every day.
“I haven’t yet come across anything that I’ve thought is going to trouble me in the long run - everything feels really good and really strong and it’s good to be back playing and now I can push on.”
I haven’t yet come across anything that I’ve thought is going to trouble me in the long run - everything feels really good and really strong and it’s good to be back playing and now I can push onSam Hoskins
The attitude of Hoskins has impressed everyone at the club.
His determination and desire to get back to full fitness as quickly as possible has not gone unnoticed, and while caution is advised as he eases himself back in, Saturday was a huge step in the right direction.
And even in his brief cameo against Bradford, and again after coming off the bench in Tuesday’s 0-0 draw at MK Dons, he showed glimpses of last season’s form.
It’s not easy after such a serious and long-term injury but the fleet-footed forward wasn’t shy of throwing himself into the thick of the action.
If he can replicate the heights of last year, when he impressed with his pace, drive and directness, he will be a big asset to a Cobblers team who have been noticeably lacking in all three of those departments so far this term.
“Last season I played more than I ever had done and that’s the aim again,” added the 24-year-old.
“I want to get back in the team but I need to take it one step at a time, I’ve been out for so long and I can’t really push too hard too soon.
“Saturday is something I can build on and it’s good for me confidence-wise to be back out there and fitness-wise as well because that’s the first game I’ve played in over eight months.
“It’s good for me in every aspect and I’ve just got to build on that now and have an impact whenever I’m called upon.”
The reception Hoskins received when he replaced Regan Poole on Saturday, and again when he came on as a sub at Stadium MK, said everything about how Cobblers fans value the former Southampton man, who added: “It means a lot and it’s nice to get a warm reception when I came on.
“Hopefully I can repay them and score a lot of goals this season.”