So much time has gone by, and so much is now at stake, that it may only be a passing thought to Nicky Adams that, when he runs out at Brunton Park on Saturday, it will be his first time on the pitch since he walked off it with the injury that ended his time as a Carlisle United player.

“I don’t like to speak about it too much, because it was probably the worst day of my career,” says Adams, who is preparing to return to his old club with Bury. November 11, 2017 is a distant memory in many ways, given how the winger has returned from the anterior cruciate knee ligament damage he suffered that afternoon whilst playing for Carlisle against Yeovil.

Since then, having moved to Gigg Lane last summer, Adams has been a regular in Bury’s promotion-chasing side and is also back at the top of League Two’s assists table. Those are familiar sights – as will be Brunton Park to the 32-year-old Adams. “It might be a bit strange walking out there,” he admits. “Apart from that day [last season], I’ve got nothing but unbelievable memories of Carlisle. It was a special place for me to play football.”

Being back in his stride this season is undeniably a matter for personal satisfaction, having missed the last six months of 2017/18. Adams has made 47 appearances for Bury so far and is happier dwelling on his successful recovery than the injury itself. “I just had to prove to myself, more than anything, that I could come back and be what I was,” he says.

“With a bad injury like that, there were a lot of doubts surrounding it. But I’ve got that desire and belief in myself. I won’t have someone tell me I’m gonna be finished or won’t be what I was.

“I’ve been lucky to come into a team who’ve played really good, attacking football, and with a manager [Ryan Lowe] who has been unbelievable for me. He was a team-mate of mine and has said, ‘Just go out there and do what you do’. I always take a pride in setting people up and being top of the assists again this season is good for me, but I never doubted that bit of my game.

“I just had to prove to people I was fit enough to do it. I’m proud of myself because it was a long, hard 10 months. I had help from good people, Dolly [United physio Neil Dalton], Jon Lucas [fitness coach at Bury]…and when someone doubts you, it motivates you. I’ve not missed a training session all season and I’ve played every game.”

Before his second Carlisle season was cut short, Adams played 69 times under Keith Curle, and was a star of their doomed promotion bid of 2016/17. His popularity from that spell should earn him a good reception on Saturday even though he will be trying to make it a bad day for United.

“I still get messages off Carlisle fans,” he says. “This past week I’ve had ones saying, ‘It’ll be good to see you back’. Hopefully I’ll get a nice reception, but ultimately it’s not about Nicky Adams for them – they’ll be supporting their team on the day. If they give me a few boos, they’re doing the right thing, trying to support their team.

"They’ve got a lot to play for and so do we. It’ll be nice to come back and play, and I’ll be looking to do my best.”

It is only two weeks since another ex-Blue, Jabo Ibehre, scored against his former club and barely celebrated. Would Adams, a famously lively character, be as subdued if he finds the net? “Look, I’ve got a lot of respect for the people up there,” he says. “I’ve done that before [celebrated excessively], funnily enough against the club I play for now, but it was different circumstances. Something happened before the game, I was a young lad and it clouded my mind a bit. I sort of lost my bearings. 

"But I’m not like that now. If I do end up scoring, or if one of my team-mates scores, I’ll be celebrating with my team, but it’ll be nothing to wind anyone up.”

Another feature of Adams' United background is how his time with the club ended. In an interview last November he claimed his contract situation had been handled “terribly” by the club prior to his summer move to Bury for a third spell. As he prepares to return to Cumbria now he takes a more even-handed view.

“It is what it is. I’ve spoken about it before, and I was disappointed with how it all went, but I don’t hold grudges against anyone,” he says. “People do things for the best interests of the club, and all the people who run the club are great people. It was just from my own personal point of view that it was difficult.

“I know they didn’t know who the manager was gonna be, and they might have had in their head that I would be a bit of a risk – 31 years old, just done his ACL and out for 10 months. I understand that.

“I also had in my mind that the manager at Bury had phoned me and said, ‘We want you’. Anyone who shows that belief in you, I won’t ever let them down because I’m a loyal person. It wasn’t nice the way it ended, and it was a sad day, really, but I left Carlisle to go to another place that means a lot to me. I didn’t just leave for leaving’s sake."

Adams keeps in regular contact with close friends in the Carlisle ranks, the likes of Mike Jones and Jamie Devitt, but says that friendships will not come into it from 3pm. “People say I’m always messing about, or don’t take things seriously, but when I do go out on that pitch I am taking it very seriously, wanting to get the upper hand on my opponent.

“It wouldn't matter if I was playing against my brother, or my dad, or my son – when I’m on that pitch I don’t want anyone to beat me. Jonah knows, as does Devs, and others like Gary Liddle, and they’ll be the same. We’re all professionals, we all hate losing.

"I might rub Jonah’s bald patch a little bit to wind him up, but over the 90 minutes I’ll want to win the game and so will all the Carlisle lads. After it, we’ll be friends again.”

Bury are the division’s top scorers and remain two points clear of the play-off places with six games to go. Their build-up, though, has not been smooth, since Tuesday's 3-0 defeat to Cambridge, which followed Saturday's 3-1 reverse to Swindon. These setbacks came after it emerged the club, recently taken over, was facing financial problems which had seen players and staff not paid their March wages. Reports today suggest a meeting has been called for the entire squad to discuss the worrying situation.

Adams insists that the check in their form (Bury were unbeaten in 14 before last weekend) is not a consequence of behind-the-scenes concerns. “It’s well-documented that the club have made a statement, and there’s rumours flying around left, right and centre. But as players we don’t get involved.

“We’ve had two poor results while this has happened, so people can start jumping to conclusions. But we haven't lost two games for the want of trying. The lads and the gaffer have given everything.

“Obviously there are problems, but it’s not my place to speak about all that. We don’t know too much of what’s going on. We just get on with what we’re doing on the pitch.”

While Carlisle sorely need to improve a run of one win in 10 to revive their own play-off hopes, Bury will be out to quell any doubts arising from their surprise back-to-back defeats. “We were causing our own problems, really,” says Adams of Tuesday’s loss, which United manager Steven Pressley attended. “Just a couple of mistakes that we didn’t manage to recover from, like we have done in previous games.

“It’s just a little blip. Everyone, at some stage, goes through that period where you feel like you can’t lose a game, and then a period when it doesn’t happen for you. It can be a cruel game at times but the main thing is we’ve given ourselves a fantastic opportunity and it’s still in our hands.”

Adams is careful to disregard United’s wobbly form when considering a game that is important for both sides. “You look at Carlisle’s team and they’ve got some really good players,” he says. “Jonah, Devs, Hallam [Hope]. I’ve not seen some of the lads you’ve got on loan but by all accounts they are really good players too. You’ve got experience with Gaz Liddle and Ad Collin – really good professionals and players.

“I know their results haven’t been great of late but it’s a tough league, and they’re in the play-off run. We’ll have to be on our 'A' game to get a good result.”

With just 18 more points available, occasions like Saturday can be defining. “They’re all big games now,” Adams says. “Some teams have got nothing to play for, and sometimes they can be the hardest to play, but we know Carlisle have got a lot to play for, as have we.

“It’s got the makings of a fantastic game and I’m sure there’ll be a great atmosphere. Bury will travel in their numbers and the Carlisle fans are always there in numbers.”

Although the sight of Brunton Park will bring mostly happy memories back, Adams says he will resist the temptation to wallow in recent nostalgia. “I’ll walk straight to the away dressing room and stay in there until it’s time to warm up,” he says. “I’ll be getting my head on the game. That’s what matters.”