Kelvin Langmead has made a habit of scoring vital late goals this season but the timing of his recent knee injury could not have been worse.
When Langmead collapsed into a heap in the north-east corner of the Sixfields pitch around 10 minutes into the Oxford match, he knew something was badly wrong.
A knee that had been sturdy enough for every minute of first-team action to that point gave way, and the player of the year was absent until a 30-minute cameo up front in the play-off semi-final second leg at Cheltenham.
On that day against Oxford, Langmead attempted to play on after initial treatment, but it was no use.
In what may be a cruel metaphor for the team’s Wembley selection today (ko 1.30pm), the defender is now fit and ready to play but may find his training-ground efforts in vain with Nathan Cameron excelling at centre-back.
“It’s come at a horrible time, a really crucial time of the season,” said Langmead, in his typical ‘brave face’ style.
“It’s disappointing but it’s part of football and you have to deal with it.
“It’s been difficult to be out of the side so far. I’m going to keep training and work hard all week and we’ll see what happens.”
Langmead’s knee injury required an operation and although he is at a stage of virtual full fitness, he could probably do with some extra sharpening work before entering the white-hot atmosphere of a Wembley play-off final.
“I’m getting there,” he said. “It’s one of those injuries that is going to take some time to heal and to get it where I need it to be.
“I’ve been back in training and that’s a step forward. It’s simple for me,
“I’ve had an operation and getting back to fitness takes time.
“For the injury that I had, the recovery process is quite lengthy.
“But I am available for selection and I am training. The gaffer and I both know where I’m at.”
The past few games have been difficult for Langmead, who has recently swapped a seat in the stands for one in the dug-out.
As the club captain, the defender provides plenty of inspiration wherever he is situated, and has accepted his role among the non-playing players, albeit through slightly gritted teeth.
He has, however, come to accept how difficult it is for those who pay money to watch the team.
“The lads have been fantastic and I’ve turned into a bit of a supporter really,” he said.
“The games prior to my operation I wasn’t able to make but I was at a few after that and then on the bench.
“I can see now why fans get so emotional about things. When you see things happening and you can’t affect them it is very frustrating.
“The lads have been great.
“I was lucky enough to be on the bench for both legs of the play-offs and then get a few minutes at the end of the second one.
“It’s been great to be among the lads and the way the lads have coped with the situation has been fantastic.”
As has Langmead for the majority of the season. His nomination as player of the year was one based on merit and tangible on-field reasons rather than any sense of romance.
The same hard facts, though, may yet keep him out of the Wembley side.