It’s been a long road back for on-loan Blades defender Ellie Fletcher, but the 20-year-old is back and has started Sheffield United’s last two league games against Leicester City and Blackburn Rovers respectively.
The right-back even popped up with an assist on her second ‘debut’ at home to the Foxes and Fletcher is delighted to be back with the squad after re-joining on loan from Liverpool in the summer.
“It was just an unbelievable feeling getting back on the pitch,” she said. “To be back in a Sheffield United shirt, I’m just really happy. It’s nice to be back playing again and it was an easy decision to come back.”
Fletcher initially joined the club last summer on a season-long loan deal from Liverpool and featured regularly as Carla Ward began to build her new-look side, but her season would be curtailed by an injury picked up before Christmas.
Despite initially thinking she might return to action before the end of the club’s first season in the FA Women’s Championship, Fletcher wouldn’t play again until the recent 7-1 victory over Leicester.
“It was an old injury I reaggravated in a tackle,” she recalled. “I tore my meniscus in a tackle, tried to play with it but when I went off to an England camp it was clear I couldn’t do multiple training sessions in a day.
“It was scanned, they said I’d need an operation to repair it and going into it that it would be either a four-month recovery or a six to eight weeks recovery. From what they told me it was more likely to be eight weeks so I was kind of banking on that, but when I woke up they told me it was going to be four months and I was absolutely devastated.”
Fletcher could only sit and watch as United’s form picked up after Christmas and after a run of defeats against the top sides began a run of seven straight victories which would take the team through to the end of their debut campaign.
Fletcher’s aim was to be back by March in order to get back on the pitch before the end of the season, but she was struck another blow as she stepped up her recovery from the initial injury.
“I just tried to get my head down, do all my rehab and then I tore it again,” she said. “It was my second session back running, I changed direction and that was that.
“At that point I just thought ‘that’s just my luck’. It’s more a mental thing than a physical thing. Physically you just get on with whatever you have to do but mentally it’s tough. You’re in the gym and you can see everybody else out training and for the most part I was just in there on my own.”
She added, “It wasn’t that pleasant so you’ve got to find ways every day to motivate yourself and get your rehab done.”
Knowing her season was over, Fletcher set about setting herself “small goals” to aim at as she now looked to recover in time for the new season.
“It’s just thinking about being back on the pitch one day,” Fletcher admitted. “At first it was easy because you have a clear goal, but when I had that setback I kept worrying I would do it again.
“I would write things down, I’d write down a target for when I could be off crutches, when I could run, when I could change direction, it was just about setting small targets.”
After a lengthy process, Fletcher is back fit and back with the Blades for another season. The defender signed in time to make her return to the pitch in scorching conditions against Leicester, setting up Katie Wilkinson’s second goal of the afternoon, and started once again in last weekend’s win over Blackburn.
“I couldn’t be happier,” she smiled. “Just to be running pain free, training with the girls again, they’re a very good group, there’s a lot of laughs and I’m just happy to be back.
“I was really pleased to start with a win. We worked so hard during pre-season and we did what we set out to do. We were annoyed about not getting the clean sheet but I’ll take it if we score seven…”