GETTING a taste of first-team action with Oxford United makes a huge difference for Christian Ribeiro at the end of a wretched season.
The full back is expected to face Millwall tomorrow, a week after making his long-awaited debut in the 1-0 defeat at Bradford City.
It came eight months later than Ribeiro had planned – but a broken ankle sustained in the final training session of pre-season in August proved disastrous.
The journey back to fitness has not been simple and even when he could play, the 27-year-old found his path blocked by the form of Phil Edwards – who had been signed on loan due to Ribeiro’s injury.
But United slipping out of the play-off race in Sky Bet League One has allowed boss Michael Appleton to rotate his side with a view to next season.
And Ribeiro believes getting a chance now gives him a huge boost.
“The longer you’re out and the more you watch the lads play you’re thinking ‘he’s a good player, can I fit into this?’,” he said.
“Deep down you know you’ve got the confidence and the ability to do it, but the longer you’re out it is difficult mentally, not just physically.
“It’s been a long time coming and I’m so happy to give back a little bit to all the people who have been positive behind me – all the physios who have looked after me and all the coaches who have been positive with me.
“It’s been a real negative slog to get through all this, but it’s nice to finally be out there after all that effort and it is worth it in the end.”
Ribeiro fully understands why he had to wait for his chance when United’s season was still alive.
But after getting a front row seat to what has been a strong campaign, the summer signing from Exeter City is aiming to do all he can to become an established player.
He said: “I’m contracted for next year and my job is to try to impress and be a fixture for next season.
“All I’m thinking is how can I impress in every opportunity now because I have a job on my hands to try to cement a position in this team.
“There’s loads of good players here and loads more good players will come in, so I just want to be part of that.
“I’ve just got to salvage what I can out of this year.
“If I don’t play another minute I’d be really disappointed, but my job is to be in and around the squad and as soon as I’m selected I’ve got to do a job and be one of the best players.
“I signed in the summer with such ambition and high hopes at joining a really positive team.
“These lads have played so many games and if that happens again next season I want to be one of those who finishes it saying ‘I played 50-odd games’.”