It was 354 days of hell for Jamie Proctor.
The excruciating pain of suffering a serious knee injury. The gut-wrenching feeling of knowing you’re being robbed of a year of your career. The soul-destroying thought of another solo rehabilitation session while your team-mates are enjoying a promotion campaign. The agonising doubt of whether you’re ever going to be as good as you were.
But for 82 glorious minutes against Wigan on Tuesday night, all the sweat, tears and toil will have been worth it.
When the striker went to bed on Monday night, not even in his wildest dreams would he have thought a comeback like the one he had was possible.
When he went to bed on Tuesday night, he did so having – on his first senior appearance since that fateful afternoon against Charlton last August – scored twice as the Millers beat Wigan 3-1 to progress to the second round of the Carabao Cup.
Semi Ajayi – playing in a holding midfielder position that might become the norm this season – scored the other goal, with a much-changed Wigan bagging a late consolation through James Vaughan.
“In terms of dreaming it is not even something I have thought of,” the 26-year-old said.
“It was all about getting out there for me, coming off the pitch and feeling good and that is exactly what has happened, so to have the goals is good.”
Before the match Paul Warne said that his “football utopia” would be for Proctor to score and feel like he had contributed.
If scoring one on your return wasn't enough, he's got two now!
— Rotherham United (@OfficialRUFC) August 14, 2018
The boss had to wait only 37 minutes for it to occur when Proctor was in the right place to drill home Sean Raggett’s header.
Ajayi doubled the lead with a thundering header from a corner shortly before the break as the Millers took a big step towards the second round.
But it was Proctor’s evening and his night to remember got even better when he bagged a second 19 minutes into the second half
The last time Proctor left the New York Stadium pitch, it was on a stretcher and the prospect of dark times ahead.
This time it was to a standing ovation and the promise of better things to come.
Warne said afterwards: “He will be really pleased with himself. When he came off the pitch, all the lads on the bench were standing up clapping him and they were buzzing for him.
“We all think the world of Procs. He was a little bit nervous before the game. Take away his goals and his play and he was very reliable.
“He has worked really hard. I thought he might have fatigued a bit quicker but he played like a 12-year-old and had that adrenaline in him. Getting that goal early on will have done him no end of good.”