DARREN Pratley may be forgiven for thinking circumstances have conspired against him so far in his Bolton Wanderers career.
Injured for the last two months of last season – a campaign in which he finally looked to have won over the Whites fans – he enters this summer as a player with question marks over his future.
While Pratley’s early-season form was one of the few positives to take from a dreadful start for Dougie Freedman’s side, the reality faced by the 27-year-old is that he returns to the Whites camp this summer needing to prove himself all over again.
Times have changed since Pratley left the field prematurely in his last start for the Whites, in a 2-0 home win over Watford at the end of February.
A dislocated shoulder, which required surgery, and later a groin operation left him watching from the sidelines as Wanderers finally developed some consistency in the last dozen or so games.
The acquisition of Liam Trotter from Millwall also seems to be a threat to Pratley’s claim for a place in the side, with both players boasting similar attributes of strength, athleticism and stature.
Exactly where the former Swansea City man fits into the picture has been brought into question but with one year remaining on his contract, the Londoner might feel he is due some good fortune.
He had carved out an excellent reputation as a goal-getting midfielder as he helped Swansea to promotion from the Championship but did not look comfortable after being drafted into a Premier League squad by Owen Coyle in the summer of 2011.
Unable to hold down a place in the team for large swathes of the season, Coyle quickly lost faith in his signing whose situation was then made worse by a bout of meningitis that laid him low as Wanderers were sucked into the second tier.
Pratley rallied and by the time Freedman came in to replace Coyle in October 2012, he was starting to look like a different player.
That improvement continued into last season, and though a red card at Nottingham Forest held him up, he was still the standout performer of the first dozen games, albeit from a very short list of contenders.
Just as Pratley looked to be rediscovering his Liberty Stadium persona, his form took another nosedive at the end of 2013 and he ended up being caught up in the squad rotation system again.
Freedman hinted part of his problems had been fitness-based – but also praised Pratley’s character to force his way back in.
“He is very committed to this club and I would like to say that to the fans, because when it wasn't going so well for him, he never once winced away from not training right, so it's credit to the guy,” he said.
“He did all that extra work without complaining, got a lot stronger and fitter, and he's grown into the team now.
“Sometimes you have got to give someone a pat on the back for that.
“It’s easy when you are not playing, you’re at a new club and you’re being criticised, to go under.
“But Darren has stood up. He has shown his character to dig in, start playing week-in, week-out, and fair play to him.”
After injury put paid to Pratley’s campaign again, it appears he faces a similar situation as the players gear up towards pre-season.
Whether Wanderers have evolved too far in his absence remains to be seen.