SAINTS young­ster Dom Bal­lard is aim­ing to return to fit­ness in time for 2024–25 pre-sea­son after his first senior cam­paign was cut short by a long-term injury.

The teenag­er has been out injured since late Novem­ber when he suf­fered a patel­la injury while on loan at Read­ing in a League One game against Wycombe Wan­der­ers.

Bal­lard has since returned to Saints for treat­ment hav­ing under­gone suc­cess­ful knee surgery in Lon­don back in Decem­ber.

“It’s impor­tant for me to be back for pre-sea­son and to be back with the lads again. Who knows where it will take me,” Bal­lard told the club’s media.

“My goal at the moment is just to be back for pre-sea­son. I real­ly enjoyed my time at Read­ing, I was gut­ted for it to end so quick­ly.

“Since I’ve been back at Southamp­ton it’s been real­ly good. I’ve been work­ing with the staff who have helped me get through it.”

Daily Echo: Dom Ballard is undergoing rehab at Staplewood following a season-ending injury while on loan at ReadingDom Bal­lard is under­go­ing rehab at Sta­ple­wood fol­low­ing a sea­son-end­ing injury while on loan at Read­ing (Image: Southamp­ton FC)

Bal­lard scored five goals and pro­vid­ed two assists in 12 games dur­ing his short stint with the Roy­als before his injury ruled him out of the remain­der of the cam­paign.

He also hit a hat­trick for Eng­land’s under-19s just a week pri­or to suf­fer­ing the first big set­back of his young career.

Hav­ing already tast­ed life as a reg­u­lar first-team play­er, the 18 year old is open to anoth­er loan should there not be an oppor­tu­ni­ty for him at Southamp­ton next sea­son.

“(Play­ing at Read­ing) was my first taste of senior foot­ball — I real­ly enjoyed it,” he con­tin­ued. “If the oppor­tu­ni­ty is not here I will go out and make my way back.

Daily Echo: Dom Ballard is contracted at Saints until 2026Dom Bal­lard is con­tract­ed at Saints until 2026 (Image: Chris Moor­house / SFC)

“That day when I got injured was one of the worst days of my life, as you can imag­ine. But these things hap­pen. It’s part of the job. 

“Hope­ful­ly I don’t have many more. Luck­i­ly I’m sur­round­ed by good peo­ple. My fam­i­ly have helped me. As has my girl­friend and my friends. 

“Most impor­tant­ly Sturds has real­ly helped me as has the psy­chol­o­gist to keep my head straight. I’ve spent a lot of time with them. They have been real­ly good to me.

“I’ve got a long time until I am back. Hope­ful­ly, I will be back by the start of next sea­son. For now, it’s just hard work.”

Ensur­ing Bal­lard is ready for the start of pre-sea­son will give the young­ster the best chance to be fit and ready for the open­ing game of the 2024–25 cam­paign.

READ MORE: What does a foot­baller go through to come back from seri­ous injury?

His­tor­i­cal­ly, play­ers who do not get a full pre-sea­son suf­fer from a decline in per­for­mance and have a high­er risk of injury.

“That has con­densed our rehab quite tight­ly,” Thomas Stur­dy, head of acad­e­my med­ical ser­vices and per­for­mance explained.

“The only rea­son we have been able to do that is that Dom had nailed the basics real­ly well. His sur­geon threw out his pro­to­col and told us to crack on. That gives us more free­dom to go for that goal.”

Daily Echo: Dom Ballard scored six goals in three PL2 games before joining Reading on loanDom Bal­lard scored six goals in three PL2 games before join­ing Read­ing on loan (Image: Chris Moor­house — SFC)

Bal­lard is aim­ing for a return around April 17 which will give him six to eight weeks of a run­ning pro­gramme with Stur­dy, giv­ing him the best chance of stay­ing fit upon return­ing to full train­ing.

Although no play­er ever wants to spend a long spell on the side­lines, Bal­lard admits his time away from the field has giv­en him a new per­spec­tive which could aid his career in the future.

He con­clud­ed: “I believe every­thing hap­pens for a rea­son. I’m real­ly grate­ful that this has hap­pened to me this young because it’s opened my eyes up.

“Com­ing into train­ing I used to be lazy and wait until train­ing start­ed. Now I under­stand what it takes for some­thing like this to hap­pen.

“To stop myself from hav­ing an injury like this again I’ve realised that nutri­tion, sleep etc are way more impor­tant than I thought.”