[email protected] Sid Nelson reckons he is ready for another shot at being a Millwall first-teamer – admitting he needed loans away from the South London club to get back to his best.
The 22-year-old is on loan at Swindon Town and will clock up 50 matches in League Two if he shakes off a slight groin niggle to feature at Exeter City tomorrow.
Lewisham-raised Nelson made his debut for the Lions in the Championship at the age of 18 and skippered his boyhood club just after he had turned 19.
But his last appearance for the SE16 outfit was back in December 2016. Since then he has been loaned to Newport County, Yeovil and Chesterfield before joining Swindon in August.
Nelson is due back at The Den in January and reckons he has come a long way from the fresh-faced teen handed his big shot by Ian Holloway.
“I think I have matured as a player,” he said. “The main thing is I have got my confidence back – that is what made me come through and play as a young lad.
I had no fear. That is why I did so well in my first 14 games in the Championship.
“From the age of seven to 18 I had never been benched – right up until I made my first-team debut. I was playing, playing and playing. But we got relegated to League One and I was on the bench, it was hard to take.
It was a different sort of pressure. Going on loan has been the best thing, it has benefitted me a lot.
“I do believe if I carry on the way I am playing, doing things off the pitch and handling myself in the right way then I will come back and play for Millwall again and be a regular in the team.
That maybe sounds big-headed. Some people might think that is not going to happen, but I think it is going to happen – that is the main thing.
“When January comes I want the gaffer at Millwall to have as big a headache as he can.
I don’t want to make life easy and for him to say ‘you’re going back on loan or doing this again’. I want to be performing well and knocking on the door.”
Nelson’s family are sprinkled around Deptford and Bermondsey. So what would it mean for him to pull on that blue shirt again in a competitive fixture?
“You are never going to beat the first time,” admitted the centre-back. “It was a sense of relief then.
“But it would put a smile on my face.
It is why I have worked so hard for two years and put my body on the line – I’ve had a lot of injuries and knocks. It’s all been to put a Millwall shirt back on. So if it happens there will be a big, big smile.
“In my first five games at Swindon I got a black eye, broke my nose and chipped a tooth. It’s part of being a centre-back in League Two.”
Nelson had a delayed start to the campaign as he needed surgery to repair damaged ankle ligaments, suffered when he made a goal-line block for Newport on the penultimate day of the 2017-18 campaign.
“The boys were in for pre-season running and going on tour and I just missed out,” said Nelson. “I was back at the training ground just working on getting fitter and stronger.
“It was a quick turnaround when I joined Swindon. I think I only played some minutes on Monday for Millwall U23s and I was there on the Saturday.”
Nelson is on 92 first-team games and looks likely to pass the century mark before this season is completed.
“I still remember getting told by David Livermore [Millwall assistant manager] when I was a scholar that you can’t class yourself as a professional footballer until you have played 100 matches,” said Nelson.
“It will be nice to have that ticked off.
“Swindon has been a different loan. The other loans at this level have been to clubs down at the bottom who are fighting to stay up.
But when I came to Swindon and trained with the boys I knew, after playing in the league for a year and a half, that they were good enough to easily be in the play-offs.
“That brings different demands because promotion is what the gaffer wants and the fans expect it too.
“It was 100 per cent a priority to go to a club that were going to be challenging at the top end. That is my next stage.
I knew I was going to go out on loan and it couldn’t be to a team fighting relegation, I needed to feel the pressure at the other end of the table to see how I coped. I feel I am doing that and it is going well.”
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