IT has been a long road back to the Warrington Town first team for Jay McCarten.

He was club captain and the first name on the team sheet until January 2018, when he suffered a serious ankle injury in a match against Altrincham.

It took him almost 18 months to recover fully, aided by dual registration and loan spells at City of Liverpool and Bamber Bridge.

He now says he is as fit as he has ever been but now comes the real challenge – getting back the centre-half spot that was his for so long.

Mark Roberts and Dave Raven made the division’s team of the year in McCarten’s absence last season to make his task that much harder, but an injury to the latter allowed McCarten to slot in during Tuesday’s 4-2 win at Atherton Collieries.

Now, the long-serving defender’s aim is clear.

“I don’t want to be sitting on the bench all season,” he said.

“Fitness wise, I feel great, probably the fittest I’ve been for a while.

“It’s been a long road back for me and Robbo and Raves were unbelievable last year.

“Along with Ben Garrity, they were probably our best players so I knew it was going to be a tough ask getting back into the side.

“It crossed my mind in the summer that I might have to go elsewhere and play. I had that conversation with Cards (manager Paul Carden) and he invited me back for pre-season.

“Really, the pre-season was about me earning a deal, trying to get myself back in the side and going from there.

“It’s a long season and to have three centre-halves competing against each other is only going to bring out the best in us.”

For most of Tuesday’s game, McCarten was able to watch from the other end as Town’s attackers made hay in the soggy conditions to go 4-0 up.

However, much to the annoyance of Carden, they conceded twice in quick succession to give their hosts a sniff of an unlikely comeback.

That plus Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to Morpeth Town – a game in which McCarten was an unused substitute – means there is plenty to work on at the back ahead of this weekend’s Bank Holiday double header, which sees Yellows travel to Gainsborough Trinity on Saturday and host Bamber Bridge on Monday.

“Saturday was obviously disappointing for the lads. We had high hopes coming into the season and we weren’t at our best,” the 28-year-old said.

“To bounce back like we did on Tuesday was very pleasing, especially for the first 60 minutes when I thought we were brilliant.

“Cards touched on a few things about that last half an hour after the match and he was right to.

“We can’t be too down because we did win the game, but there’s a few things to work on going forward.”