MIDFIELD maestro Andy Procter believes he is fitter and stronger than ever before.

The Accrington Stanley youngster started his first game of the season at Aldershot on Saturday - ironically the ground where he marked the Reds' first Conference game with a goal last season - after recovering from cruciate knee ligament damage.

And while Procter admitted he was a surprise inclusion in the starting line-up after three months out through injury, he believes he can go from strength to strength on the back of his first 90 minutes of the season.

"It's brilliant to be back," beamed the 21-year-old, who only learned of his inclusion in the side five minutes before the team was announced on Saturday.

"It's done my head in just training by myself, and only being able to watch the games has been frustrating as well, so it's good to be having the banter again with the lads.

"I was pleasantly surprised to start because I didn't think I would be, never mind playing the full game.

"I'd played 45 minutes for the reserves last Wednesday and John (Coleman) took me off at half-time and told me I was in the squad for Saturday.

"I didn't think he would make me travel all that way and not be involved.

"But I was surprised to be in the side, then I surprised myself by lasting the 90 minutes.

"I think that was as much to do with adrenaline than anything, but the manager just told me to blow myself out and do as much as I can.

"It was weird because obviously Aldershot's where we played our first game of last season, and it was the first game of the season for me there on Saturday.

"I just enjoyed everything about the day - even travelling back."

And Procter admitted that he was feeling the benefit of some intensive rehabilitation, after suffering the worst injury of his career so far against Wolves in pre-season.

The Stanley midfield man also revealed how he called on some familiar faces at Leeds Metropolitan University, where he graduated in the summer, to aid his recovery.

"I was in a lot of pain when I first got the injury and feared the worst, but fortunately I didn't need an operation because of my age," he said.

"I've spent a lot of time in the gym at Hyndburn Sports Centre and now I'm stronger than when I first got the injury.

"In a way, it's not been a bad thing for me because I made enquiries at Leeds Met and they let me go back to use some of their specialist equipment to build my knee up.

"They told me there that it had got stronger.

"Coley told me I would get stronger and fitter as well.

"I still feel I need a couple more games under my belt to get back to match fitness. I just hope I can keep my place and that we can build on Saturday's performance at Scarborough this weekend, because last week's game will count for nothing if we don't."

Meanwhile, with team-mates Peter Cavanagh and Ian Craney being called up to the England National Game XI side, Procter admitted he would love another chance to impress at that level after receiving his first cap last week for his debut in the summer.

However, he stressed that establishing himself in the Stanley side was his main priority.

"I'm just happy to keep my place in the Stanley team, and if I'm involved again with England, that's a bonus," he said.

"I didn't let myself down the last time I played for them, so hopefully that will be remembered.

"But Stanley's my priority first and foremost."

GLAD TO BE BACK: Stanley midfielder Andy Procter has made a full recovery from injury

"I haven't been to some of the away games because it was frustrating only being able to watch.

"At the home games you just end up kicking every ball if you're watching from the stand.

"The specialist said it would take 12 weeks to heal and it's been pretty much that, but I didn't expect to be involved straight away.

"I heard a crack against Wolves in the pre-season game and was told that was the fluid shifting in my knee.

"But it's still by far the worst injury I've ever had. It made it worse that the lads are training every day now and I wasn't able to join in.