Lankester: Another Step Forward After Some Tough Times
Wednesday, 7th Oct 2020 11:34
Forward Jack Lankester thoroughly enjoyed his first start since January 2019 in last night’s 2-0 EFL Trophy victory over Gillingham after some tough times out with stress fractures to his back.
The 20-year-old broke into the Blues side in 2018/19 but was forced to undergo the first of two operations in January of that season, then a second after making an abortive comeback the following summer.
Academy product Lankester made his return for the Blues in pre-season and had made two League One sub appearances prior to last night’s first start. He was eventually replaced deep in injury time as a very young Town side defeated the Gills.
“It was very enjoyable, that was my first 90 minutes in more than 20 months,” he said. “So it was really enjoyable for me and alongside some close friends who I’ve played with for the last few years.
“The first step was just to get back out there, a couple of sub appearances was the first milestone and 90 minutes is the next one, so it’s really good to get it in the tank with no problem.
“I felt really good, I’ve been doing everything with the boys, I don’t think I’ve missed a day yet, and from that long-term injury that’s the main thing, just to get out there and get through it.”
Reflecting on the team’s performance last night, he added: “It was very good, all the young ones came in and showed everyone what they can do, 17 or 18 a lot of them, and they didn’t really put a foot wrong.
“Young players go out and play with no fear because if you make a mistake, you get it again, and I think they all did that tonight.”
Lankester says the club’s youngsters are aware there is a route into the first team for them if they continue to impress.
“Definitely, with this gaffer as well, he gave me my chance to play week-in, week-out, there’s definitely a pathway,” he said. “I think there are a lot of us, Woolfy [Luke Woolfenden], Doz [Andre Dozzell], Flynn [Downes], Tristan [Nydam], everyone who has come through has done really well.”
Lankester was part of a three-man midfield with two other players from Bury St Edmunds, Liam Gibbs, 17, and 20-year-old Brett McGavin.
“We started three in midfield and we’re all from Bury, which is really good,” he said. “Brett’s been my best mate for years, we’ve grown up together so it was really nice to start a professional game with him.
“We’ve known each other since we were 10 or 11, we were in the same class at upper school, had the same friend group. Every day we spend together, he’s living with me at the moment, so it’s unbelievable to play with him out there.
“We’d have loved it for our families to be here because they're friends as well, it just meant a lot to both of us. We sat there in the changing room and just took it all in.
“Our pathways might go elsewhere but we’ll always be in contact, we’ve been best friends and I can only support him.”
Making his debut from the start last night was centre-half Elkan Baggott, also 17, who impressed his team-mate.
“He’s very good, very solid, big, strong and on the ball he’s really good,” Lankester said.
“Left-footed, I don’t think he really gave the ball away and when you know he hasn’t really done much, you know the defenders have done well.
“He’s confident handling the ball, he’s just as good as us, we trust him the same. He gets the ball and keeps it for us.
“At the end of the day it’s a first-team game for all of them, they’re making their debuts, that’s what they try and do and it’s a chance for them to show the gaffer and the first-team staff what they can do.”
Another player who impressed him was Armando Dobra, 19, who scored a brilliant opening goal: “He was unbelievable tonight, he showed everyone what he can do.
“I had a little word with him, if he didn’t score that I was going to absolutely grill him, but luckily he put it in the top corner, and that’s just what Dobs does every day, so it’s nice to see him do it on the pitch.”
Lankester hopes next month’s third EFL Trophy group game at Crawley will be another opportunity for the younger players to show what they can do.
“Whoever plays we’ve just got to go out and play,” he said. “It’s a chance for us to get far in a competition. If it’s the young boys again, it’s another chance for them to express themselves.”
Lankester says he can understand manager Paul Lambert holding him back a little after his lengthy spell out.
“Yes, it’s been a really long time and the gaffer’s always talked to me every day and we’re in it together, everybody on the team, when I get my chance I’ll take it and I love seeing how the boys are doing so far.”
But he now feels ready to play 90 minutes regularly: “Yes, I’ve been doing everything with the team, I’m just waiting for my chance.
“The gaffer might be being cautious with me, and that’s fine because it was a really long time, but when I do get my chance I’ll do my best to show what I can do.”
He believes the system Town currently use suits him: “I can play anywhere across the front three and if at some point he decides to play with an attacking midfielder, I can also do that, like I did tonight.”
Lankester says he enjoyed playing in the number 10 role, having played most of his senior football wide on the right.
“That’s where I played when I was younger a lot of the time,” he continued. “But I’ll play anywhere across the three or in that 10 role, I really enjoyed it.
“Whether that’s my best route into the team depends on what formation we play but I’m happy out wide on the right, and that’s where I got my chance last time to break through and I can definitely play there and express myself all the way across.”
Reflecting on the Blues’ start to their League One season, which has seen them win their first three before Saturday’s draw away against the MK Dons, he added: “The boys have been very, very good. Defensively, clean sheets and everything, so really good.”
Having made his first start of the season, Lankester is now looking for a second career goal, the first having come in the home game against Millwall in January 2019: “It’s been a long time, but chances will come and I’ll hopefully take them.”
He wasn’t able to claim the first as his goal on his return at Bristol Rovers with Pirates skipper Max Ehmer having diverted his cross into his own net and had to be content with two assists: “I don’t think I can claim that! I tried my best, I’ll take the assist.”
Lankester says the senior players, a number of whom watched last night’s match from the directors’ box, gave him a pat on the back as he made his way to the tunnel at the end having supported him throughout his time on the sidelines.
“When I came off they said 'Well done',” he said. “They also knew how much that meant to me to get 90 minutes in the tank.
“They’ve been supportive from day dot. From the start of the injury all the way to now, everyone’s been by my side and helping out, so it’s been really good.
“Every single day I was in there and every single day someone would ask me how I was and they were there throughout and it really meant a lot to me.”
He admits there were some tough times, not least during last summer’s pre-season training camp in Germany when he suffered the second of his stress fractures at the Interweppen Cup friendly tournament in Meppen and subsequently went under the knife for a second time.
“I don’t think I can really explain what it was like, my mind had gone really,” he recalled.
“I thought I’d got somewhere and then it just kicked me again. But the support of all the other players made it a lot easier for me to get through it.
“It was horrible, the back dictates everything, I had two operations, so there was a lot of time I spent in bed at home, couldn’t really get up.
“There were some dark times but I got through them, me and my family, my friends, everyone, we managed it together.”
Now he’s back, he says he appreciates football just that little bit more: “Definitely, you can’t take a day for granted, can’t take a game for granted. Like today, 90 minutes, I’ll go home and I’ll just think about the next one.”
Photos: Matchday Images
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