West Brom's Callum Morton on whirlwind 12 months and shining at Northampton
He made his Football League debut just six weeks ago – but Albion’s Callum Morton is already winning individual accolades after being crowned League Two Player of the Month for February.
The striker picked up the honour following a prolific month that saw him score five goals in seven games for a Northampton side now sitting inside the play-off zone.
And the prize was a fitting reward for the forward who exactly a year ago was told he faced nine months on the sidelines after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
Morton was enjoying a loan spell at Braintree at the time. But a seemingly innocuous coming together effectively put his career back by an entire year.
“It was a Tuesday night game against Chesterfield and I was chasing a free-kick down the line,” the 20-year-old recalled.
“The defender got in front of me and I accidentally clipped his heels. He fell and then landed on my leg, and it planted.
“It was really unfortunate but unavoidable also. To then be told I would be out for around nine months was gutting.
“But after the initial reaction, I knew that it wasn’t going to change and I had to get through it.
“I was also lucky because I knew I had good people around me to help me, both in and outside of football.”
Morton returned to Albion where Adam Bending, the senior physio for the under-21s, and Lee Marsh, the lead sport scientist for the under-21s, got to work on rebuilding his knee.
“I’m naturally quite fit so I always backed myself to get back to a good level of fitness,” the striker continued.
“But, of course, that wasn’t going to stop me from all the bike sessions and conditioning drills!
“Adam Bending was great with me, right from the beginning we set markers and an end goal, which kept me going through the process and something to strive towards.
“And then when I got outside I was working with Lee Marsh, who was great also and worked me hard to get me back to the physical level I was pre-injury, and more.”
Throughout his rehabilitation, Morton had his sights set on reaching January and securing a loan in the Football League.
But despite his impressive spell at Braintree, there weren’t many clubs willing to take a chance on a player who had just suffered such a long-term injury.
And that is why the forward says he is incredibly grateful to Northampton and Cobblers boss Keith Curle.
“I’m quite a critical person and I knew I had lost out on almost a year of football because of the injury,” Morton continued.
“I didn’t like the thought of being a year behind where I’d expect to be.
“So I made it clear my aim was to get out on loan this January. The medical staff were good in the sense that they knew that was my goal, and managed to get me back for that.
“I had a lot of options in the National League, which was good to hear. But I wanted to play league football.
“A lot of league clubs that my agent and Paul Terry (Albion loan’s manager) spoke to were pretty hesitant taking a young lad with no league experience off the back of long-term injury.
“That was frustrating, but also understandable, so I went through my options and pretty late on in January Northampton came in and said they wanted to take me.
“They were interested last year as well so it was a no brainer. It was good to hear the gaffer was willing to give me a chance, and I’ve managed to repay his faith so far.”
Morton has certainly repaid Curle’s faith so far.
As well as his goals, the forward put in a string of eye-catching displays throughout February.
And that led to him beating off competition from Cheltenham’s Chris Hussey, Port Vale’s Leon Legge and Grimsby’s Charles Vernam to be crowned League Two Player of the Month.
“To even be nominated was an achievement in itself, let alone win the award,” Morton said.
“In my first month in league football, to be seen as the best player across League Two is amazing.”
Morton’s contract with Albion runs to the summer of 2021 and he admits his long-term aim is to force himself into the first team picture at The Hawthorns.
For now, though, he is focused on Northampton and hopefully firing the club to promotion.
“This season the aim is to gain promotion with Northampton,” he added.
“I think, unfortunately, automatic promotion may be a little out of reach now, however watching as a young lad I don’t think promotion can get much sweeter than winning at Wembley.
“It would be a dream come true to achieve that.
“Longer term, the aim has to be being in and around the first team at Albion.
“I have one more year on my contract, so I will see what happens at the beginning of next season.
“But with them, hopefully, being in the Premier League next season, it may be that my pathway is going out on loan again, this time for a full season.”
“I will cross that bridge when it comes to it, though, for now I’m fully focused on getting Northampton promoted.”