Matthew Pennington was smiling with satisfaction after playing his first match of the season for Everton Under-23s against Sunderland on Sunday.
The defender could not hide his delight after his comeback appearance, following a lengthy recovery from a hamstring injury, went to plan at Eppleton Colliery.
The 22-year-old performed excellently in his 45-minute outing, helping the young Blues keep a clean sheet and earn another three points in their quest for the title.
It was the latest step in Pennington’s recovery from a problem he first sustained in Premier League action against Norwich City on the final day of last season. He then suffered a reoccurrence on the pre-season trip to Dresden, prompting him to undergo surgery.
“It’s been a really frustrating few months and it feels amazing to be part of a team again, especially that we won and got the clean sheet,” Pennington told evertonfc.com. “The performance and result tops it off - a great day.
“Forty-five minutes was a good idea, just to get myself back into it. Hopefully I’ll get more minutes as the games and season goes on.
“I said before we set off that I wouldn’t think I’d miss the little things like getting on the coach and travelling with the lads, but you do when you’ve been out for so long. I’m just thankful to be back.”
During his 45-minute run-out, Pennington was partnered with Tyias Browning in central defence - another youngster fighting back to fitness following a prolonged period on the sidelines.
Coach David Unsworth was full of praise in his post-match assessment of Pennington, claiming the defender played as though he had never been away.
“He looked magnificent - he looked like a Rolls Royce,” Unsworth eulogised. “I can tell you, if our lads work hard then Matty Pennington works even harder.
“He’s a workaholic and a wonderful lad. I’m absolutely delighted for him and that we could keep a clean sheet.”