From Saturday, September 15 until Saturday, December 1 – it’s been a long wait for Leeds United striker Ross McCormack.
A wait, though, that was at least worthwhile, the Scot still reflecting on a perfect return to starting action amidst derby delight at Huddersfield Town on Saturday.
This time last year, McCormack had netted 11 times for United with a further eight goals in the second half of the campaign allowing the Scot to take the mantle of United’s 2011-12 top scorer.
So far this term the 26-year-old has netted just three times with an ankle injury picked up in only the fifth minute of September’s loss to Cardiff no help at all.
In his absence, partner in crime Luciano Becchio has been setting alight the goal trail – the 28-year-old Argentinian already on 12 Championship goals for the season and now, finally, McCormack is ready to join him.
After substitute appearances against Millwall and Crystal Palace in recent weeks, the five-foot-nine ace was handed his first start since September at the Galpharm on Saturday – a comeback to remember with the Whites running out impressive 4-2 winners.
“It’s about three months since I got injured and it’s been a long three months but I’ve worked hard with the physios and the fitness coaches,” said McCormack.
“The gaffer pulled me aside on Thursday and said I was going to play.
“It was a good game to return – a local derby and all three points. It was a great day.
“I played 90 minutes, which even surprised myself a little bit.
“After about 60 minutes my legs started to get stiff and the gaffer asked me if I wanted to come off but as the game went on, I think I got a little bit stronger and started to get more involved on the ball.”
McCormack – and Leeds – now have Derby County in their sights, Neil Warnock’s side bidding to make it four Championship wins in succession with victory at Pride Park in four days’ time.
McCormack will be hoping his first start in nearly three months can be followed by his first goal since September 1 when he netted in the 3-3 draw with Blackburn Rovers at Elland Road.
If he doesn’t, it’s a fair bet that his fellow hitman will, as in-form Becchio in rude health at present and earning high praise from his ally up tops.
The Scot has also been impressed with the efforts of United’s recent recruits – notably Michael Tonge, Paul Green, Jerome Thomas and Ryan Hall – the latter coming on as a substitute on Saturday and providing two assists.
“Everyone knows what Luciano does – outside the box is not his game,” said McCormack.
“You forgive anything he does outside the box – if he gives it away or whatever – because you know that if the ball’s in the box, he’s going to be there or thereabouts, as he showed on Saturday with two great finishes.
“I think we’ve worked out what we want to do in games.
“We’ve got Tongey in there who can pass the ball and Paul Green who works up and down the wing, with some flair on the left in Jerome Thomas and then Ryan Hall when he came on.
“We’ve got a good squad and hopefully we can keep going.”
Reflecting on Saturday’s impressive team showing at Huddersfield, McCormack continued: “It was a professional performance.
“We went 1-0 down and maybe everybody’s wondering what’s going to happen and thinking that Leeds’ frailties are back again but I think we showed tremendous character to get the game back to 2-1.
“As the game got stretched, there was more space between their defence and midfield for myself to get on the ball.
“That’s how we play the game – we’ve got dynamic players now who can really stretch teams.”
The music to Leeds United’s ears is that in a fit again McCormack United now have another dynamo and one champing at the bit to continue last season’s stellar progress.
The Scot will not turn 27 until next August and still very much has time on his side.
Saturday, though, was all about the main man’s birthday with Whites boss Warnock celebrating his 64th.
United’s players including McCormack were made to know about it and can now reflect on giving the experienced manager his most desired gift of all.
“The gaffer mentioned it was his birthday a few times!” laughed McCormack.
“He asked us after the game what we’d got for him and I think three points should be enough.
“There were no presents – three points and that’s it.”
Meanwhile, Derby are monitoring the progress of midfielder Craig Bryson and full back Gareth Roberts ahead of Saturday’s visit of Leeds.
The duo both missed last Saturday evening’s 4-1 loss to Leicester in which former Huddersfield Town man Theo Robinson was the Rams’ solitary scorer.
Bryson was missing with a knee injury picked up in the home draw with Cardiff with Roberts withdrawn in the same game with a calf problem.
It was only the second match Bryson has missed this season – the Scottish midfielder also sitting out the 3-0 Championship defeat at Peterborough in October.
“He will do everything he can and we will do everything we can to get him right for Leeds,” said Rams manager Nigel Clough after the Leicester loss.
“We miss him when he doesn’t play.
“We miss his energy, his closing down and him getting a tackle in.
“He has missed two games, against Leicester and Peterborough, and we have lost them both by a three-goal margin.”
Roberts, though, is less likely to be fit to face the Whites – the 34-year-old’s left-back slot having been filled by James O’Connor against Leicester.
Clough added: “We missed Craig Bryson but I thought we missed Gareth Roberts more, and we’ll have to see what happens with him this week.
“Jimmy O’Connor struggled at times at left-back. Right-back or centre-half is Jimmy’s position, so we were asking him to play out of position.”