Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland is ready to make his Premier League return after describing his injury absence as the toughest year of his career.
It is 13 months since Butland's last competitive appearance when he suffered a fractured ankle while playing for England against Germany.
Setbacks in August and December prolonged his absence but the 24-year-old played the full 90 minutes on Monday night as the Under-23 side lost 2-0 to Brighton. After the game at the Amex Stadium he tweeted there had been " no issues" on his comeback.
Butland now feels ready to be back in first team contention but admitted the long road to recovery had been difficult.
Asked if it had been the toughest year of his career, he told Sky Sports News: " Yes, by far. When I recovered from the first operation it wasn't too bad, it was the feeling like I was back and then the day before the first game of the season it kind of all was going pear-shaped.
"That three months leading into the last operation was tough. It was back and forth to specialists and radiologists and things like that, trying to get it right and put a finger on what it was.
"So, it's been since pre-season. I recovered from the first operation which then later set me back but I was playing in pre-season so I was pretty good then. It's been eight months since my last game so I am pretty pleased.
"I'm relieved and just dead pleased and happy to be back out on the pitch. It's obviously where I want to be and where I'm happiest.
"It's not been full steam ahead but it's gone smoothly and as we would've expected and I'm finally back where I wanted to be."
After battling his way back to fitness, Butland insists he is ready for another challenge - trying to win back his place in the Stoke team from Lee Grant.
Grant has been hugely impressive in Butland's absence with his performances persuading manager Mark Hughes to sign him on a permanent basis, having initially moved to the bet365 Stadium on loan from Derby.
"He's done better than well, he's been one of our best players this season and that's ultimate credit to him," said Butland.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge. I enjoy challenges and I've just come off of the biggest challenge I'll ever have anyway, so I'm raring to go and it's not phased me before so I'm looking forward to it."