Sam Lavelle has been through some testing times since joining Charlton Athletic and that has made their recent performances at The Valley taste that little bit sweeter.
The 25-year-old centre-back missed 15 matches after suffering a major groin injury at Sunderland in October – tearing the muscle away from the bone – and returned to a struggling side that then took one point from seven games.
But the mood in SE7 has been lifted, at least a little, by back-to-back victories over Gillingham and Burton that have erased any fears of being dragged into the bottom four in the home stretch.
Lavelle has been part of Charlton’s defence that have kept three successive clean sheets at The Valley.
Jayden Stockley was the only home player to win more aerial duels (12) than the Blackpool-born defender (seven) as Burton, like the Gills, took a direct approach.
“It’s quite pleasing to see we can stand up to that pressure,” Lavelle told the South London Press. “The conditions were a bit underrated as well – the sun in the first half was a big factor with those long balls and swirling winds.
“But we got two goals even though we weren’t at our best. We knew that and had a few words at half time. But we also stayed positive and the second half of the match ended up being fairly comfortable.
“I’m not sure if it has been the home fans who have helped us out in the last few at The Valley, but we’ve been good defensively. We knew that performances can still improve but the basics for a defender is to help the team keep clean sheets.”
Lavelle is quick to shoot down any notion that Charlton’s squad will be eyeing their summer sun loungers now they have opened up a 13-point gap on the bottom four.
“Part of the job of a footballer is about your professionalism,” he said. “If players do lose motivation then they won’t last long in the game.
“You have got to find it in yourself to get motivated. Every game is important – especially a club the size of Charlton. It’s massive walking out at The Valley and to pull on that red shirt – no matter how small the game might seem. The players who can find that drive will have better careers.
“It’s been a bit of a weird season for me and it had been a pretty tough few months. I never thought too much about it, I just got my head down and supported the boys.
“We need to get some more wins and then hopefully have a proper season next time.”
Lavelle was out for just under four months with the injury he suffered at the Stadium of Light – the only negative as Johnnie Jackson started life as caretaker boss with an impressive 1-0 win.
“I went in for a tackle and my leg got caught with a striker’s leg,” said Lavelle. “It was the worst injury I’ve had in my career. Luckily a club the size of Charlton got me sorted out very quickly. The rehab was very thorough as well.
“People said it would take five or six games to get back to my best after a long-term injury and I’d always disagreed with that and said you should be able to dive back in straight away – but I see that now.
“The pace of the game at this level does have an effect. I’m slowly getting back up to the match speed you need and getting more confident with every match. I wasn’t very happy with my first two or three back from the injury.
“Normally when you get a little knock in the game you don’t feel it until afterwards. This was a sharp pain. I thought the striker had studded my groin but within three or four minutes it hadn’t gone away.
“I was a bit worried, I could barely walk. The physio diagnosed it straight away, he could feel it had detached from the bone. I knew it was pretty serious.
“The first two weeks afterwards I could do nothing – try not to weight-bear on it. The club were great – they let me go on holiday for a week. It was nice to refresh physically and mentally.”
Lavelle is due to face former club Morecambe next month. He captained them as they won promotion from League Two last season and his performances led to Charlton signing him for an undisclosed fee at the end of August.
The Lancashire club are in the relegation zone.
“I’ve got a lot of friends there and I grew as a player and as a person with them,” said Lavelle, who played 165 matches for Morecambe. “They helped me to be who I am today.
“I’ve been on a bit of a journey with them, so I do speak to the lads often. I’m hoping they stay up before then so I can get a clean sheet and win the game and be happy about it.
“Their last four are Charlton, Sunderland, MK and Portsmouth. Picking up points is going to be very tough.”