Tuesday, 01 December 2015

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Striker Lee Miller eyeing return to action for Carlisle Utd

The clack, clack, clack of skipping ropes pierces the silence of a dingy, sweaty gym that wouldn’t be out of place on the Rocky film set.

Lee Miller photo
Lee Miller in the gym at Brunton Park

Before long, the mirrored walls are starting to steam up from the effort being worked up by the man slugging it out in the biggest fight of his career.

Despite the punishing and often lonely existence on the road back to fitness, Lee Miller is just happy that he’s now off the ropes after an injury nightmare.

Only Carlisle United’s talismanic frontman knows the bitter disappointment he’s endured over the last eight months with hernia and ankle injuries which have left him a frustrated spectator and seen his team-mates having to soldier on without him.

But in a deserted gym in a backroom at Brunton Park, while his team-mates are outside on the training pitch, Miller is now daring to dream about his long-awaited return to action.

So much so, he reveals he is now starting to cast a glance at United’s fixture list in the lead up to Christmas – and hopes he could even be back by the start of December if his path to full fitness continues to be trouble-free.

“I’m on course and maybe even ahead of schedule,” he said.

“I’ve had the all-clear from the surgeon who is happy with things.

“I was told mid-December but I’m hoping to be back before that.

“By the start of next month I hope to have my fitness back and that the ankle will be fine.

“There is no target date for me to be back, but I’ll know within myself what will be realistic.

“I keep looking at fixtures. I’ll know myself when I’m ready and what will be a realistic date to come back.

“You set yourself back if you rush things.

“It won't be a case of just walking straight back into the team.

“People think that is the case, but I’ll need to find my feet again.

“I’m not allowing myself to get excited yet as there is still a lot of work to be done.

“I think when I’m doing fitness running then I’ll start getting excited.

“The guys have been doing well and I’ll need games under my belt before I'm back to my best anyway.”

Miller’s misery started in April and the big Scot will be glad to see the back of 2012 – his worst-ever year for injuries.

His spectacular first season at Brunton Park, when he scored 15 goals following his arrival from Middlesbrough the previous summer, ended prematurely after he limped off during the 0-0 draw with Scunthorpe in April.

It was frustrating for Miller and, as it would later prove, a catastrophic blow to Carlisle’s play-off hopes as their small squad couldn’t cope with the loss of their influential forward. He underwent a hernia operation during the summer and, after regaining his fitness, was preparing for the season with optimism.

But worse was to follow in the opening game against Stevenage when he was left in a crumpled heap with a badly bruised and swollen ankle following a tackle.

The 28-year-old former Dundee United, Hearts and Aberdeen targetman again went under the surgeon’s knife to remove floating bone and stabilise the joint.

“I couldn’t do anything for two or three weeks as I had a cast on,” he said.

“I was on crutches and couldn’t drive, which was horrendous. I got through it with the help of my family as they kept me going and kept me sane.

“Until this year, I’d never had a serious injury in my entire career or had any length of time on the sidelines.

“It’s a weird feeling because I’ve always been around a club day-to-day but I was away from the boys for quite a while when I was recovering. This is the longest I’ve ever been out of a team.

“The psychological side has been tough, as it is the first time I’ve had bad injuries. When I got injured at the tail-end of last season, there were only a few games left so I was able to chill out.

“But then to come back and suffer another injury after a clumsy tackle on the first day of the season was a real blow.

“I have been lucky with injuries throughout the whole of my career, so I suppose I’ve got my bad luck all at once.”

Miller’s rehab following his operation has been straight forward.

As well as jogging near his home in Lanark, the Brunton Park gym has been the scene for his return to fitness.

Most days he lifts weights and does strengthening work on his ankle.

“It’s pretty lonely when you’re out of the team but, once I get my tunes on, it’s OK,” he said.

“I discovered an old play-list I’d had when I was at Aberdeen with a load of old-school dance and rave tunes, so that has been on full blast. I put it on and go for it in the gym.

”I’m doing some light jogging back home. Although I still feel the injury a little bit when I’m jogging, it is getting stronger all the time.

“I’ll still be off the match pace when I come back but that will come with games.”

The loss of Miller’s goals, his height and attacking presence, along with ability to hold the ball up, came as a major blow to Carlisle.

His eagerly-awaited return to action will be a major pre-Christmas boost to the club and provide boss Greg Abbott with greater options up front.

Rory Loy is also closing in on a first-team return following a broken leg and that could herald the mouth-watering prospect of a renewal of the exciting three-pronged tartan attack of Miller, Loy and JP McGovern.

The arrival of Joe Garner brings another tantalising proposition, as Miller and the Watford loan man formed an exciting strike partnership at Scunthorpe United.

Miller said: “We did well together at Scunthorpe. We complemented each other and it was a good partnership.

“I enjoyed playing alongside him and the idea of doing that again is exciting.

“Playing alongside JP and Rory again is an exciting prospect and I’ll look forward to that.

“We read each other’s games really well and it was an exciting system that worked.

“It’s not great watching when you’re injured.

“I try to go into the dressing room and I try to keep myself as close to them as much as possible so that I still feel part of everything.

“I’ve seen them a few times and they have had some great results. It’s not a one-man team and it’s not just me the team has missed, as Rory Loy and JP McGovern have also been a loss.

“They are having to play a different way now but they have tried to get the ball down and play some good stuff and they have also given some of the young boys a chance to show what they can do.

“What has cost us this season is our inconsistency and we all know that. It’s been frustrating because we have a good bunch of lads who work for each other and play for each other, but it hasn’t gelled every game this season.

“It’s hard to put your finger on what has gone wrong in some games.

“But there are plenty of positives like the young lads coming through with a few older lads to keep their feet on the ground, which is great for them. Brad Potts has done really well and Mark Gillespie has been an absolute revelation. They just needed a chance and it is in their hands to take it when it comes.”

A fully-fit Miller will be doing just that himself in a few months when he is available again for selection.


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