Town skipper Sonny Bradley has been describing just how difficult his start to the season has been after recovering from a severe bout of Covid-19.
The Hatters captain began the 1-1 draw with Portsmouth ahead of the campaign starting, but was then absent from the friendly against Brighton, and the opening 3-0 win over Peterborough.
Manager Nathan Jones confirmed his absence was due to catching the virus, later on explaining just how hard the centre half had been hit by it, as Bradley went on to miss the first six matches until making an appearance on the bench at Blackburn Rovers on Saturday.
When asked about his ordeal, Bradley said: “It’s frustrating, the first time I tested positive (in June 2020), I didn’t have any symptoms, I felt absolutely fine, just did my quarantine, did my 10 days and I came straight back into the squad, I was fine.
“This time round it was a lot worse. I was bed-bound for two weeks, it’s not nice, very unpleasant, but it was frustrating as I’d worked all pre-season.
“I put six weeks work in to get fit, it was after the Portsmouth game, I played around 60 minutes and then I tested the Monday after the game.
“To do all that work and then to have set-back like this, it’s not just like a small set-back where it’s seven to ten days off, it’s three weeks of real illness where I’ve lost a stone in weight.
“I had no energy and to build that up and to return to playing football at Championship level, it’s difficult, it doesn’t happen straight away.
“That’s the reason I missed the first five games, but hopefully now that’s behind me, I can concentrate on keeping getting fit, building up my fitness and I just want to contribute the best I can for this football club.”
Although Bradley completed the hardest section of pre-season when the players returned from their summer break, he had to almost go back to square one to build up his fitness again after being unable to anything during the worst of his battle with the virus.
He continued: “I lost the majority of it I would say, 75 per cent of the work I lost, and it was just one of those things.
“I couldn’t do anything about it, there was no point dwelling on it too much, all I could do was wait until I wasn’t carrying the virus and then get back in with the boys.
“I think other players will know as well and the sports scientists will know more than me, it’s not just a case of when you come back in, you can just get straight back in with the lads.
“When you’ve lost weight and you’ve not got any energy, you’ve got to build that up again and it’s a gradual process.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of people at a lot of clubs who are returning from Covid, but their bodies still aren’t right, their muscles still aren’t right.
"So if they can get back into training, they go back in too quick, they’re at risk of causing an injury, a muscular injury.
“I’ve been looked after here, I didn’t expect anything less, and they’ve built me up gradually.
“I don’t think I was expected to play that much of a part against Blackburn, but unfortunately we’ve been struck down with injury and illness and I’ve been called upon and in the end, it was a positive day for myself and a positive result.”
Although Bradley was left frustrated not to be able to go straight in at full pelt when he finally got back to the Brache, he understood just why that couldn’t happen, saying: “When I first came back, I remember I went out there and the boys were building up for games and doing the road sessions at full pace and I wanted to get back in straight away.
“But I also understood that I would have been at risk and it’s got to be a gradual process in.
“We work with really good professionals, really good sports scientists, strength and conditioning coaches, I put my trust in them, listen to what they’ve said.
“I’ve put the work in and fortunately now I’m back to full fitness.”
He did boost that fitness and match sharpness in the build-up to the weekend by getting over an hour for Luton’s development side in a 1-1 draw against Crystal Palace U23s.
It was an important practice match for the skipper just to prove to himself he could cope after such an absence, as he said: “It wasn’t too much about the opposition, it was more about getting the minutes in and not just physically, it was good for me mentally as well.
“I had a chat with the gaffer and he said to me, I just want you to play so that if you can manage to play against Blackburn, or moving forward against Bristol City, that you’ve got those minutes in the bank and you know mentally that you can do it.
“It turned out to be a good decision as I got the work in against Palace, the work that I needed.
“I was asked to play 45 minutes against Blackburn and I’ve looked back at my stats, my running stats, and they all seem to be up to speed.
"So I’ve got three more days to get myself ready and if called upon against Bristol City then I’ll be ready to go.”
Just being amongst the squad again was a massive boost for Bradley after spending so long away from the club, although he went on to have a bigger role than anticipated in Town’s battling 2-2 draw at Ewood Park.
Brought off the bench at half time for Dan Potts with the visitors trailing 2-0, he saw fellow substitute Luke Berry score twice to earn a point, the equaliser coming in the eighth minute of stoppage time.
Bradley said: “It felt great, not even just to get on the pitch but to be travelling down with the boys the day before, to be in the mix, to be in the changing room before the game.
“You don’t realise how much you miss it until you really get back in there and then to get back on the pitch, I didn’t expect to play that much of a part if I’m honest.
“But I was fit, I was ready to go and we had a better second half and went on to get a positive result.
“So I think overall, for myself and the team it was a positive day.”
Finally, only how he thought he did in what was a first Championship outing for over four months following a last appearance at QPR in May, Bradley added: “I have been off the field for about six or seven weeks, I’d only played that 60 minutes against Palace U23 and on that day it was 30 degrees and there was no real tempo to the game.
“I got my minutes in but there was no tempo and when you compare that to a Championship fixture, which is at full pace, it is a bit different.
“It was a little bit of a question mark to see where I was at I’ll be honest but I feel like I dealt with it well.
“The game was quite open in the second half, I could see we had to go for it so at times we were exposed but the job that I was asked to do I think I did it.
"We scored two goals in the second half and I think if Cam (Cameron Jerome) scores his chance, we can possibly go on to win.
“I am feeling good, I trained yesterday, today and then I’ve got tomorrow as well so more time to get fit and more time to get ready for Bristol City.”