STUART Holden’s long-awaited Wanderers comeback ended in heartache last night when he was forced off just 23 minutes into the Under-21s clash with Everton at the Reebok Stadium.

Holden was making his first appearance of the season after seven months out with a cruciate ligament injury to his right knee playing for the USA in last summer’s Gold Cup.

And, worryingly for the 28-year-old, he was left clutching the back of that same knee he injured on international duty twice before finally admitting defeat in his bid to get through a first match of the season, collapsing with no-one near him just before he was replaced.

The positive aspect for both player and Wanderers manager Dougie Freedman is the fact Holden was able to jog off and did not need assistance but the sight of his number eight shirt pulled up over his head illustrated his obvious devastation.

His last senior appearance for Wanderers came as a substitute at the back end of last season when he came off the bench for the last minute of the away game at Cardiff City on April 27 – more than 10 months ago.

With his contract up in the summer and a dream to fight back into Jurgen Klinsmann’s US squad for the World Cup, which starts in Brazil in 100 days’ time, it is another setback for the unlucky American who has now fought back from three serious knee injuries in as many years.

It is a succession of cruel luck that has seen Holden make just five Wanderers appearances in those three years since the first injury suffered after an X-rated tackle from Manchester United defender Jonny Evans at Old Trafford in March 2011.

But yesterday he hoped that nightmare spell was coming to an end.

On his official Twitter account before the game, Holden said: “Ahhhh butterflies, not had those in a while! A lot of hard work has gone into this and ready for next step! Thx for all the support.”

Everyone at Wanderers will hope this setback is not a serious one.

Whites assistant manager Lennie Lawrence will, like Freedman, certainly be praying for good news after relishing the chance to see Holden in action again last night.

Speaking ahead of the Under-21s clash, Lawrence said: “He’s (Holden) been looking good in training and, hopefully, it will be a step in his rehabilitation.

“It will be a great experience for the youngsters, who don’t often have the chance to be alongside a senior player of his calibre.”

Holden is likely to be assessed by the medical team at Euxton today.