Super-fit Tomlinson beats the clock to solve Albion dilemma
WHEN Stuart Tomlinson played for Burton Albion's reserves yesterday, at Wrexham, the big goalkeeper was back in action in half the time that had been predicted after he sustained a serious knee injury in October.
Tomlinson, on the verge of having his temporary contract made permanent, snapped a ligament in his right knee as Port Vale substitute Ben Williams fell over him in the process of equalising in the sides' 1-1 draw at the Pirelli Stadium.
The initial estimate when he saw a specialist was for a six-month lay-off – at least.
But Tomlinson – who has had more injuries than most goalkeepers endure – was back between the posts for the Brewers' 2-2 draw at Wrexham after only three months on the sidelines.
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A bodybuilder and gym enthusiast, Tomlinson has clearly found the rehabilitation regime easier to deal with than many and his timing is immaculate.
Ross Atkins, who started the season as Burton's first-choice goalkeeper, returned to parent club Derby County after sitting on the bench for the 2-1 win over Torquay United on Saturday, so the Brewers were in need of a second fit keeper.
At one stage it looked as if the club would have to fill a gap between the Atkins loan and Tomlinson's return but that is no longer necessary.
A cheery Tomlinson hit the gym – of course – after a trouble-free 90 minutes at Wrexham and said: "I think the surgeons must say six months to cover themselves but I also think my body heals quite quickly.
"I don't know if that's because I work out or not.
"I had six to eight weeks of pure rest after I first got the injury and I do think that did me good.
"Of course, I'd rather it hadn't happened but it's true that some players would have had their heads down at the thought of spending three months in the gym, whereas I was looking forward to it!
"I feel fine, there have been no complications and I felt ready a couple of weeks ago but we've taken things very carefully."
Manager Gary Rowett will face a tough choice between Tomlinson and Dean Lyness, the 20-year-old who has taken his chance in the first team with increasing assurance.
"That will be a nice problem to have but, first of all, it's just a massive bonus to have Tomo back so soon," said Rowett.
"I think it helps that he has a keen understanding of what it takes to get his body right.
"He's done all the work and we could have waited another two weeks but we thought, if he's ready, he's ready.
"We really appreciate all that Ross Atkins did for us but he really needs to be playing games and there was no point in us having three goalkeepers now that Tomo is fit again."
For his part, Tomlinson has been impressed by the efforts of Lyness while he has been sidelined and is not necessarily expecting to walk straight back into the team.
"The team have been doing well, Dean has done really well and I'm pleased for him," he said. "He got his chance probably a bit sooner than he expected and he has a lot of qualities.
"Now I'm fit, I'll try to push Dean as hard as I can."
Tomlinson, who had two brief loan spells at Burton early in his career, came to Burton on a temporary deal in September after turning down a new contract with cash-strapped Port Vale in the summer. He was on the losing side only once in 10 League Two games before getting injured.
Talks had already begun about a permanent deal but, after Tomlinson was injured, Burton extended the temporary deal to allow him time to recover his fitness.
"I owe a big thank-you to the chairman and the manager for that," said Tomlinson. "They could have just turned their backs on me and suggested I come back to them when I was fit but they didn't."