Early return of James Perch is great news says Mansfield Town boss Nigel Clough
Perch was ruled out for the season after fracturing his skull in a freak training accident in September but will now play a tentative 45 minutes with the U23s in the Premier League Cup clash with Wigan Athletic at Alfreton Town on Wednesday night.
Clough admitted the club had know Perch had been given the okay to return a few weeks ago but kept it quiet.
“It is such a bonus. We've been excited about it for a few weeks but didn't want to say anything and jinx it or pre-empt anything,” he said.
“It has been a major boost for everybody around the place.
“It is one of the best pieces of news we've had for some time. It was unexpected as we were thinking he was going to be out for the season.
“But he saw the specialist a few weeks ago, got the provisional okay to start training with protection – he has got a guard on. And he will play 45 minutes at Alfreton if all goes well.
“He has been at varying stages of training for a few weeks but we didn't want to say anything too early. We wanted to make sure everything was okay.
“He has been through various stages of contact and he is now back in full contact training.
“Hopefully he won't be too long. It just depends how he gets on and how he goes with the headguard.”
He added: “We are not going to get carried away. But having him back on the training pitch and having him back involved is like having a new player.
“It's absolutely brilliant news for him and for us.
“Perchy is 36 now but unbelievably fit and, as we saw at the start of the season, he's still got something to offer.
“It will take him a bit of time to get back in the swing of things, but it's helped he has been able to join in training in varying capacities in the last few weeks. He has competed as well as anyone in training this morning.
“We are just looking forward to getting him back on the pitch.”
The vastly experienced Perch has remained a part of things around the dressing room and Clough said: “His experience and just being around the place has been important.
“You want people like that to stay around. We've left it very much up to him to come in and do as much or as little as he wants to do.”
The next step will be decided after Perch's first game back on Wednesday.
“We will assess him after Wednesday night when he's done 45 minutes – he might even do 60,” said Clough.
“He has been able to do quite a bit of physical work so he shouldn't need too long. It's how comfortable he feels with the headguard in his own mind. We will leave it up to him to a large degree.
“We still have to be a bit careful – he can't go at it 100 per cent. We are being slightly cautious with it but hopefully everything will go well.”
Even if Perch does well at Alfreton, the best he can hope for is a place on the bench on Saturday.
“Even though Faz Rawson is suspended we still have options back there with Oli Hawkins and Elliott Hewitt - and Lucas Akins can play full back.
“I wouldn't think he will be starting a game any time soon but there is a chance of him being in the squad.”
Clough said Perch had overcome some very difficult days over the time he has been injured.
“He has been a bit down at times personally. He is not a 23 or 24-year-old any more,” said Clough.
“So when you come towards the end of your career and you miss a long chunk of a season – and you think it's going to be longer – it does get you down.
“It has been demoralising for him at times and he's done well to keep his chin up. When you are watching the team doing well everyone wants to be a part of it, though when we had the bad run I think he was quite pleased he was out injured.
“He had tentatively made the decision he was going to give it a go next season, then he went to the specialist and got the okay a few months early, so he is very excited about the opportunity.”