By Fraser Watson
It’s now three goals in two games for Swansea City’s Liam Cullen – albeit over a three-month period.
The 21-year-old returned to the Swansea squad for the first time at the weekend since scoring twice in the FA Cup win against Nottingham Forest on January 24th, a tie which also saw him limp off late on with an ankle injury.
It initially appeared he would play no further part in the 2020/21 campaign, but after just two first team training sessions, his place among the substitutes came somewhat ahead of schedule.
And he made an immediate impact. Cullen came on with his side 2-0 down to Wycombe Wanderers after early second half goals from Admiral Muskwe and Gareth McCleary – before Jamal Lowe’s 80th minute penalty restored hope.
Then Cullen, who had only been on the field seven minutes when his big chance came, latched onto a Connor Roberts cross to head home at the back post and secure what had looked an unlikely point for the hosts.
“I’m unbelievably pleased to comeback like that,” he said.
“The one downer is that we only got one point from the game. But on a personal level it has been a long 10 weeks and I’ve tried to make it as productive as I can and work as hard as I can.
“Full credit to the medical staff, the S and C and sports science coaches. They’ve done everything they can to help me and then I had to put the work in. And I did, because I wanted moments like today.”
Cullen admitted that the extent of the injury initially took him by surprise, but said despite the lack of squad training, he now feels as fit as ever.
“When I first did it I never thought it was as bad as what it was.
“But it turned out it was and I tried to stay as positive as I could. But the surgeon did an unbelievable job.
“It feels (the ankle) is stronger than ever now and it’s nice to be back a bit earlier and be able to help the team like I did today.
“I feel really fit. They didn’t want to push me and I tried to keep a level head and tell myself in terms of my career, I’m only at the start, so if I did something stupid now it could hinder me in the future and I didn’t want that.
“Rehab has been tough but I wanted to make it tough so I could be as fit as I could coming back in.”
Cullen’s goal saw Swansea cut the deficit on second placed Watford to six points, after the Hornets were beaten at Luton.
Catching them appears a tall order with both sides having just four games left, but the pair are set to meet at Vicarage Road on the final day of the season.
And Cullen’s role in the run-in may be bigger than envisaged, after fellow forward Andre Ayew left the field with a hamstring injury just eight minutes in.
Swansea head coach Steve Cooper said it would take 48 hours before the severity of the problem was known, but conceded Ayew was almost definitely out of Tuesday’s home game with QPR.
However, the youngster insists he will remain just as focused regardless of whether he’s in the starting XI or not.
“Obviously we’ve got a massive four games now and we going to everything we can to try and get the results we need,” added Cullen.
“I’ll do anything I’m asked by the gaffer to be honest. I obviously want to play for this club as much as I can but at the end of the day it’s not my decision.
“I’ll see what he decides come Tuesday and obviously if I’m called upon to start or come off the bench, I’ll just give it my all.”
Cullen now has four goals at senior level for the club, his first famously coming in last season’s 4-1 win at Reading on the final night of the season, which helped Swansea clinch a play-off place in the most dramatic fashion.
It prompted the kind of emotion he now hopes to experience again before this campaign is out.
“The occasion (against Reading) and the how everything happened is probably the best feeling I’ve ever had on the pitch.
“The first thing I did was come off the pitch and ring my parents, and tell them how typical it was that they weren’t there. All through the years since I joined the club at eight-year-old they’ve been at every game, and obviously because of circumstances, the first goal I get at senior level they didn’t see.
“But it’s a night I still cherish. You never know what’s going to happen in the last game but for now we can only focus on the next one, so let’s see what happens Tuesday and hopefully we can put ourselves in a better position that we’re in now.”
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As for Cooper, he was full of praise for his returning striker.
“Big credit to him. He’s only trained twice having been out for 10 weeks. But he’s comeback early because of the commitment he’s shown in his rehab and we haven’t put him at risk in any way.
“He was in a position where he could play 20 or 30 minutes for the Under 23’s but we are short of players in that position so thought why not do it with us.
“It was a great ball in from Connor and he showed a real striker’s instinct to find the space and it was a good header.”
At one stage, it appeared Cullen would be playing no part in Swansea’s season finale.
Suddenly, it seems he may end up pivotal to it.