Brighton striker Ben Wilson determined to make up for lost time after injury nightmare

Brighton striker Ben Wilson on the attack against Chelsea U23s last season.Brighton striker Ben Wilson on the attack against Chelsea U23s last season.
Brighton striker Ben Wilson on the attack against Chelsea U23s last season.
BRIGHTON & Hove Albion Academy striker Ben Wilson is bracing himself for the most important season of his career as the Derry teenager’s rehabilitation gathers pace.

The 19 year-old Coshquin native is making his way back from major hip surgery and is determined to be back on the training pitch by the end of October ahead of his fourth season with the English Premiership outfit.

The Coleraine Academy graduate, who hit the headlines in 2017 when becoming the youngest ever player to score a senior goal for the Bannsiders at the age of 15, has spent a mentally gruelling four months on the sidelines following a traumatic injury sustained on the training ground.

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However, the pacey Northern Ireland U21 international was handed a timely boost recently when the Seagulls announced they were extending his contract for another 12 months.

With five of last season’s U23 panel released, the former St Columb’s College student could’ve been forgiven for fearing the worst after an injury-blighted campaign.

However, his new deal arrived at the perfect time while on his road to recovery and has provided the level-headed youngster with renewed belief and purpose as he plots his way back onto the pitch.

“It was brilliant to be offered a new contract,” beamed the Brighton prospect. “They (Brighton) had told me not to worry about my contract or anything else, they just wanted to get me right again.

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“Credit to the club for that,” he added. “They didn’t have to go out of their way to give me a new contract as I was injured but thankfully they did. They told me they would get me through my rehab and get me back playing, I’m just looking forward to getting back now. It’s just another year for now,” he confirmed. “So this is a big season for me.”

Ben Wilson in action for Brighton U23s last season.Ben Wilson in action for Brighton U23s last season.
Ben Wilson in action for Brighton U23s last season.

Injury curtailed his game-time last season as a hamstring tear kept him out for 10 weeks just as he began to hit form. He bagged goals against Blackburn and a four minute brace in the EFL Cup against Leyton Orient as his stock as an agile, quick-paced striker grew.

His luck turned, however, after an innocuous training ground challenge which suddenly halted his rapid progress and left his Brighton future shrouded in doubt.

“I was training and went in to press the man to get the ball back and I stuck my leg out to get the ball because I read where he was going and when I brought my leg back three of my muscles pinged off my pelvis,” he explained.

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“So I’ve had to get them reattached through surgery which is a big ‘op’. I’ve now got about a four-and-half or five inch scar across my hip as a painful reminder.

“I don’t really feel much pain now as there’s nerve damage done. That’s actually okay because it means I can get on with my rehab and it’s not sore,” he added as he opted to focus on the positives.

A big part of the recovery process has been the mental side of it and his positive approach has been crucial to his progress. Coming back from a devastating injury such as his can be a long, lonely journey, especially in the midst of a pandemic. And Wilson is grateful to Brighton for allowing him to return home to Derry for the early stages of his rehabilitation programme.

Derry City Football Club, former Brighton midfielder Paddy McCourt and his brother Leroy, a scout for the Premiership club, were influential in facilitating his return to fitness while back in the maiden city.

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City boss Ruaidhri Higgins, who coached Wilson when at Coleraine, was also a huge help as the player used the Brandywell club’s facilities and its Elagh Business Park gym for his strength and conditioning and mobility work during the summer. Familiar faces such as Brendan Barr, who he played with in the Milk Cup, his former Holy Family P.S. classmate Evan

McLaughlin and ex-Coleraine midfielder Ciaron Harkin among others made him feel instantly welcome.

Derry were entrusted with his recovery and Wilson remained in constant dialogue with his Brighton coaches to ensure it went as smoothly as possible.

He’s shown incredible determination and spirit to return to light running in recent days and he remains on course for a full recovery ahead of schedule.

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“I was back home and Derry was good enough to let me use their gym and facilities. For the first couple of months I wasn’t able to leave my bed really because I had big surgery and it’s been slow ever since.

“Leroy was telling Paddy about my situation and he told him that if Derry can do anything to help when I get back then they would be more than happy to help out. So the two clubs sorted it out between themselves and it was great for me for them to come together.

“Derry told them that if I can do stuff while I’m back home they were more than happy to help out instead of me being over and going in for just a couple of hours and then going back to sit in the house on my own.

“So Brighton said they didn’t really need me back unless I was outside running and doing stuff like that so I came back home. I was on crutches for ages and it was just a long process.

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“It’s going in the right direction now and I’m back running now so it’s positive. At the minute it’s about getting my movement back and mobility around the hip. So I’ve been working on mobility and strength around my core again so I’ll be okay to be running and supporting myself.”

Wilson has since returned to Brighton’s American Express Elite Football Performance Centre to step up his rehab but being surrounded by his close family and friends in Derry during the early stages of his recovery was hugely beneficial.

“It definitely helped and that’s what Brighton were really keen on as well, to keep me around my family and friends at the early stages. They told me I would heal the best at home as it will take your mind off stuff which was right. Again thanks to Brighton, I’m getting back on the road again.”

The former Oxford United youth player is in the best environment as he gets back to full health and he’s determined to get back as quick as possible in the hope of making the breakthrough under the watchful eye of first team boss Graham Potter and the Academy staff.

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“They have a plan in place and a rough plan for when they want me to get back playing. The surgeon said it would take me six months from the surgery. It’s been about four months now and I’ve just started running. So probably around the sixth month mark I would be wanting to get back into full training. October is my target. I’m just determined to get back playing.”

And the big hope is to eventually make his way into Potter’s plans. “You only have to look at the amount of boys who came through the Academy and into the first team last year and a couple of years before that when he (Potter) arrived. So that gives us hope that there could be an opportunity there for us and when it presents itself you have to be ready to take it.

“So I’m working towards that and hopefully with a bit of luck something happens for me and I get a break and get in. It’s just about taking your chances and hopefully when I get back it takes off for me.

“This is a massive season for me and I just need to get back as quick as I can and impress again.”