By Tom Easterby
Ryan Taylor is on the comeback trail - and he couldn't be any more relieved about it.
The Newcastle United defender has been forced to sit out the last 20 months of action due to a succession of serious knee injuries but, under the watchful gaze of feted knee surgeon Richard Steadman and the Magpies' medical staff, has been able to finally put his boots back on this week.
"It's been a long road, if you like," said the 29-year-old, who has been affectionately nicknamed Over The Wall by the United faithful.
"I don't know where to start really, but I've finally got my boots back on (on Tuesday) which was a great feeling, even though it was just a couple of jogs outside. It was just a relief to get them back on.
"It's taken a while, but we're getting there and I can see the end now."
The former Wigan full-back is held in high esteem by Newcastle fans following his Tyne-Wear derby-winning free-kick at the Stadium of Light almost three years ago.
Taylor, though, was quick to stress that while he has made giant strides over the past few months, he is still some way off a return to first-team training, despite what's being said in the cyberworld.
"People sort of got the wrong impression actually, a lot of people thought I was not far off or even back in first team training but that wasn't the case," he explained, after posting a picture of his boot-clad feet on Twitter on Tuesday.
"What it was, was just a case of my first day back outside, if you like.
"I've done all my rehab in the gym and that's been fine. It's been smooth, it's been good and then the running phase starts now to get the knee loaded again, start running and start kicking balls and twisting and turning and then look for pre-season to join back in with the lads.
"It's still two months off, so I've just got to try and aim towards that now.
"I went to Colorado for my last visit with the Steadman clinic and they were really pleased with everything. I've started phase three with them and they've just said basically go home and kick on, and that's what we've done at the earliest opportunity.
"Once we got over the flights and got the Arsenal game out the way we were back outside with the boots on."
The set-piece specialist has now set his sights on putting the last two years of pain behind him, with pre-season training ahead of the 2014/15 campaign a realistic target for the Liverpudlian to recover his fitness.
"Hopefully now, I can sort of say 'right, that's it'," he said.
"I'd love to say that's me done with injuries and try and finish my career injury-free now.
"It is a big pre-season. I've got a year left on my deal as well so I think next season is a really big one but my main focus is just getting fit - when that is, I can't put my finger on it, but I'll just enjoy it when it comes."