It says everything about Tom Bradshaw’s desire to score goals that his first instinct after suffering medial knee ligament damage was to try and net one more before being forced off.
The 29-year-old ended two months on the sidelines when he came on as a 62nd-minute substitute in Millwall’s 2-0 loss at Stoke City before the international break.
The ink had barely dried on Bradshaw’s new long-term contract with the Lions before he suffered the injury against Nottingham Forest in the middle of January.
He had gone into that match at The Den having scored in his last five Championship outings.
Bradshaw’s experience of suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury to his right knee, at Brentford in November 2018, made him less fearful he had sustained really severe damage.
“When I did my ACL it is almost like you can’t lock your knee out,” said the Shrewsbury-born forward. “It kind of almost goes backwards. This time when I got up I locked my leg out and it felt strong, so I was fairly confident it wasn’t that.
“When I went side to side it felt like it was giving way on the inside and that it was most likely my MCL had ruptured. I was waiting for the ball to go out in the game so I could go down and get the physios on.
“But there was a spell of five or six minutes where the ball didn’t go out of play so I was thinking ‘if I can try and nick a goal in’ that would be great before I got taken off!
“I think Danny Mac [McNamara] went down the right and was in the box but the chance never quite materialised.
“I knew I was in a bit of trouble and it was just a case of getting that confirmed and cracking on with the rehab. The club were great – they got me PRP (platelet-rich plasma] injections and collagen shots to help me get back quicker.
“I knew that I could get back for the last eight or nine games and the fact we’re still in a position to be pushing for the play-offs is really exciting. I’d love if the season had longer to go but equally I’m grateful I’ve still got a chance to feature in the matches we’ve got left.
“Myself and Sheyi [Ojo] got injured at the same time and once I realised it wasn’t a season-finisher it drove me on. We both had the same timeframe to get back.
“The lads have been in brilliant form and managed to rack up a lot of points to get us in a really strong position. We’re right in the mix.
“Obviously we’re disappointed not to pick up anything at Stoke but that result can probably be forgiven after the run before that.”
Bradshaw has made 111 appearances for Millwall – he fell narrowly short of three figures at Shrewsbury, Barnsley and Walsall – with the promise of plenty more to come after extending his terms.
“We’d been speaking about it for maybe a month-and-a-half or two months prior to me signing the deal,” said Bradshaw.
“It is brought up in conversation and then we are talking about it. It’s something that probably would’ve got done anyway. The way I was playing maybe accelerated things.
“It wasn’t out of the blue but it gives you a bit more strength as a striker when you’re scoring in every game you play in heading into those negotiations.
“It was pretty quick. The club knew I wanted to stay and I made that pretty clear in the press – we’ve got roots here.
“I’m not a young player any more and the one thing I wanted was a little bit of security. This takes me up until I’m 32 or 33 and then it is down to me to prove that I can still run around. I need to keep myself in good nick!
“The timing was horrific. I signed on the Thursday and got injured on the Saturday. That wasn’t great.
“When you are in the last year of your contract it is always at the back of your mind but I was very conscious not to put too much emphasis on it. There is enough pressure in football to do your job well, and as a striker to score goals, to then be thinking ‘I need to be playing well this game because I’m running out of games’.
“I made a conscious decision to think if it happens, then great, if it doesn’t then you adapt.
“I just enjoyed my football and it paid dividends. If you are playing well and scoring goals then nine times out of 10 the club is going to want to lock you down. That’s what happened.”
The latest break for international fixtures has allowed Bradshaw, capped three times at senior level by Wales, a fortnight on the training pitch. Ryan Leonard and Oliver Burke are set to also be back from injury for tomorrow’s fixture at Luton Town.
Millwall are set to need a grandstand finish, starting at Kenilworth Road, to take one of the play-off places.
“I came on earlier than was planned – by everyone actually,” said Bradshaw about replacing Scott Malone at Stoke’s bet365 Stadium.
“The situation in the game called for it – we needed a goal. I came on and felt great and really strong – I’d only trained on the Friday before the game. The sports and conditioning team had done great getting me and Sheyi up to that stage. There is no replicating games, you get match fitness from playing in them. But you can still build that core fitness to adapt you when you do start playing again.
“The international break has allowed me to get back training properly and intense sessions as well – without a game at the weekend it meant the gaffer could go a bit harder and push the lads a bit more.
“I’ve been able to properly catch up and get some real miles into the legs and spent a lot more time with the ball.
“Everyone feels really well-prepared for the Luton game. Luton should be proud of themselves, to be third in the table is a similar story to Barnsley last year – a really low budget in the league and proving everyone wrong.
“The table is so compact. I look at the top 10 or 11 and in three games the whole order can change.
“They’ve done brilliantly up until this stage but they certainly won’t be taking it easy and we feel confident we can get in there [the play-offs] as well.
“We approach every game to win, regardless of who we’re playing. We’ve got a lot more strength in depth, which is something we haven’t had the past couple of months. We’re confident of giving a good account of ourselves.”