CURTIS Nelson paid tribute to Oxford United’s backroom staff after he returned to action well ahead of schedule.

The defender’s 11-minute cameo off the bench came as a big bonus on top of the 2-0 win against Southend United.

It was felt Nelson would not play again this season after rupturing an Achilles tendon five months ago, but he has made excellent progress and is now likely to start at Wigan Athletic tomorrow night.

He said: “It’s nice to be back before the end of the season – I’d written it off in November.

“Thanks to Procs (Andrew Proctor, United’s head of sports science and medicine), all the medical team and all the players for the support they’ve been giving me.

“There’s friends, family, everyone at home as well, just being there for me and supporting me through the whole thing.”

The 24-year-old also reserved special praise for John Mousinho, who has led the side in his absence.

When Nelson came on, the experienced defender immediately handed over the captain’s armband, which meant a lot.

He said: I’ve got to say thanks to Mous for giving me the armband. He didn’t have to do that.

“He’s been really good as captain, is a great professional to have around and I’ve learnt a lot from him, as a leader and as a captain.

“I really appreciate it.”

The victory came at the end of three home games in a week where results had been mixed, but one constant was a supportive crowd.

Nelson said: “I’ve got to say they’ve stuck with us the whole way through.

“Results haven’t been going our way, you can’t hide from that, but the performances have been there at times and I think they recognise we’re trying to do the right things.

“It’s good we’ve got positivity coming from the stands as well.”