IF young Blackburn Rovers striker Anton Forrester needs proof that he can come back stronger from the serious injury that has stalled his promising career then he needs look no further than his friend, England star Ross Barkley.

Forrester, 20, and Barkley, 21, came through the Everton ranks together and have remained close after the former left the latter behind when swapping Goodison Park for Ewood Park in January 2013.

So much so that Barkley wanted to be there in person to watch Forrester make his comeback in midweek after nine months on the sidelines.

Commitments meant he was unable to do so but no doubt he would have been proud of the way his mate made it looked like he had never been away.

Playing competitively for the first time since sustaining cruciate and medical knee ligament damage in March, Forrester scored twice as Rovers lost their U21s Premier League encounter to Derby County 4-3 at Ewood.

The Liverpudlian was desperate to complete his hat-trick but he was advised by the Rovers medical team, who have been with him every step of the way on his long road back, to come off at half-time.

But as Barkley, who had to overcome a triple leg break at the age of 16, has shown, good things can come to those who wait.

“Ross is a good mate of mine so we always speak,” said Forrester after the match.

“He was going to come tonight but he couldn’t make it in the end.

“With the injuries he’s had he just told me to stay strong. He’s been out for a year with a broken leg.

“I’ve played with Ross all my life. He’s pushed on, been to a World Cup, and it just makes me want to push on now.”

Forrester will step up his return by playing 65-70 minutes for the U21s when they resume their season away to Bolton Wanderers on January 5.

A spell back out on loan may follow but his aim is to add to the one first-team appearance he has made for Rovers when he came off the bench in the FA Cup quarter-final replay defeat to Millwall in March 2013.

“I’ve just got to get my fitness back and then try and get in the first team,” said Forrester, who sustained his injury while playing for Bury on loan.

“That’s the aim and it was the aim when I first came to the club but obviously you’ve got to get experience and go on loan and I think I’m more grown up after the loan spell I had.

“But I think the injury has also helped me grow up. It’s been really tough, being outside the physios every day, so I’m just made-up to be back now.”

While Michael Appleton is credited as signing Forrester, it was actually current Rovers boss Gary Bowyer, then in charge of the U21s, who brought him to the club.

Bowyer was present to see Forrester net his well-taken brace against Derby, the pick being his first goal, a diving header to round off a flowing move he had started.

“Gary was the reserve manager and he was the one who brought me in,” said Forrester, who scored seven times during his loan at Bury last season.

“He’s watched me tonight, I’ve scored two and he said ‘well done’.

“I’m made-up but I wanted to stay on and get a hat-trick if I’m honest! But I just stuck to the plan.”

Rovers U21s boss Eric Kinder said: “That was a great game for him.

“He had a hell of a tussle with the centre half, he got clouted from behind, and you fear the worst when that happens, but he got up and he got himself two goals.

“He wanted to stop on but the medical team said we have to be very careful with him because as everybody knows cruciate injuries are serious and we can’t have a recurrence​ with it.

“Hopefully this will kick start him.”