LEWIS Gard is thrilled to have ended 16 months of injury heartbreak at Southend United.

The midfielder, who had been sidelined by a serious cruciate ligament, played an hour for Blues' under 23 side in Tuesday's 5-1 defeat to AFC Wimbledon.

And the 20-year-old was delighted to be back in action after initially fearing for his future in the game.

"Being back out there was brilliant," said Gard.

"It was great to play in a competitive match and I had strangely missed that feeling of being tired and everything starting to ache after a game.

"But the best thing about being out there was the confidence I had in my knee and my game from all the work I’d been doing over the last year with the psychologist.

"I didn’t think about the injury once and just played freely."

Gard showed a number of neat touches in the centre of the park.

But there were times when the youngster feared he may not make a return.

"In the last 16 months there have been days where honestly I felt like saying what’s the point anymore and to stop trying," said Gard.

"But Tuesday was everything I’ve been working towards as the main goal from the state of the injury at first for me was to be able to just play again.

"The first four or five months for me were very slow and I did have a big fear if I’d ever be able to play again at all at some stage.

"But it just suddenly clicked one day and from then on I never looked back."

And Gard was also keen to thank those who had helped him return to action.

"The main thing that got me back was definitely having the people around me going through it as well,” said Gard.

“There were three others with knee injuries and towards the end Kyps (Harry Kyprianou) was a huge help as well when back outside on the grass.

“Also Benji (Ben Clarkson) and Jamie Dye were great with their support and help in the gym and treatment room to keep us mentally sane.”

But Gard is now determined to build on his first game back.

“The plans from here are to carry on training and playing as many games as possible in the coming weeks to get as much match fitness as possible,” said Gard, who had made four first team appearances before his injury.

“Then if called upon I want to be ready to hopefully break back into the first team like before my injury.”