It is nearly two years since Michail Antonio suffered the first in a series of hamstring injuries that left him feeling frustrated and lacking in fitness and form.
It was March 2017 when Antonio was hurt in the Premier League defeat by Leicester City at London Stadium. The injury forced the No30 to withdraw from the England squad for a prestigious friendly with Germany and 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Lithuania.
Antonio returned to face Arsenal two-and-a-half weeks later, only to pull up again in the home win over Swansea City in April and miss the remainder of the season.
The following season, 2017/18, Antonio missed time with a bruised rib and a calf strain before history repeated itself in April last year, when a hamstring injury ruled him out of the final seven Premier League matches and scuppered any hopes he harboured of breaking into England’s World Cup squad.
This season, Antonio has remained injury-free and is happily showing signs of returning to the form which saw him make a huge impact during his first two years in Claret and Blue and be crowned Hammer of the Year in 2017.
Now, I’ve got my mind right, I’ve had a good run of games and I’m starting to feel the benefits of it
“It’s taken time to get where I am and I now have the stamina to be out there running at people and taking people on constantly,” he confirmed.
“Hopefully, I keep going, I can stay in the team and keep impressing. Right now, I need to start scoring and creating more goals as they are the parts of my game I’ve not got back properly yet, so hopefully that will start happening sooner rather than later.
“I’m getting into good positions, which is a positive, but it’s about hitting the back of the net now. I don’t know why I’m not scoring, but I’ll keep working on it, keep doing it in training and hopefully it will come naturally to me on matchday.”
Reflecting on his injury issues, Antonio lost some of his explosive power, pace and acceleration, as well as trust in his own body.
Now, all of those characteristics are returning.
“You definitely have to trust your body when you play like I do,” he confirmed. “I felt good when I came back from the first one but, because I’d never had issues with my hamstrings previously, at first I was fine and didn’t mind putting my body to the test.
“After I did it for a second time, though, with the way I did it, it scared me. I was thinking it could go again at any time because all I had done was strike a ball and it popped so, mentally, I wasn’t sprinting properly.
“I kept stopping myself when I was taking people on and it changed my whole game and I lost my form. Now, I’ve got my mind right, I’ve had a good run of games and I’m starting to feel the benefits of it.”