JOHN Brayford says last season at Derby County was the worst in his career so far.
The 24-year-old right-back suffered a torn thigh muscle in October and returned to action too soon.
He struggled for form playing while still injured and broke down again, completing just 26 games for the Rams.
It was a far cry from his first season in 2010/11, when he played every minute of every match, earning the club’s player of the year award.
Now, Brayford is positive his injury nightmare is behind him and is looking forward to firing Derby towards the top six.
“Last season was the worst I’ve had in football,” said the former Burton Albion man.
“I fully take the blame for coming back too soon.
“Sometimes people in general can take a bit longer than you want to get fit.
“But you don’t know unless you try — it’s just I was silly for trying too soon.
“I couldn’t do it at the time.”
Brayford has recently been forced into the ‘old team’ in training at Derby — but made his first appearance pay in a bet with James Bailey.
Instead of playing with youngsters like Michael Jacobs and Will Hughes, the right-back now lines up alongside Gareth Roberts, 34, and Ben Davies, 31.
Brayford is happy the club has a young squad, even if he is starting to become one of the older heads.
“I couldn’t believe it when I was in the old team,” said the popular ex-Brewer. “I just crept into it and it was like being back at Crewe.
“Mind, I think Gaz (Roberts) could have a team all of his own!
“We won the other day though and it got me a tenner off James Bailey, so I’m pretty happy with that.
“When I first got to Derby there were a few more experienced players.
“Sometimes old players think they know it all!”
Brayford, now in his third season at Pride Park after a spell at Crewe Alexandra, says the team spirit at Derby is closer than ever.
The squad visited Marbella during the international break for a chance of scenery and have become a close-knit bunch.
“It was the best trip I’ve been on,” said Brayford. “We had a really good time.
“It carried on into this week, with the same high intensity level.
“When you can go on trips like that with your mates for your job, that can only be a good thing. We’re very lucky.
“It was in the 80s in Marbella so there were a few ‘sweaters’ out there on the training pitches!
“We did the same things in training we’d have done if we were back at Moor Farm.
“We had a great trip away but now it’s back to the British weather!”
Brayford will start against Huddersfield Town this afternoon, kick-off 3pm, and wants the Rams to continue performing to a high level.
“We’ve got to go there and play like we have in the last two or three games,” he said. “We know what we can do and what a danger we can be to teams.”