Jordan Houghton joined Doncaster Rovers on loan for the start of the season and the Chelsea Academy midfielder played an integral role for the League Two leaders until his campaign was cut short by injury last month.
Having now returned to Cobham to undergo rehabilitation, we caught up with the 21-year-old who prior to the knee injury had played the highest number of minutes of any of our loan players this season, to hear about the progress he made at the Keepmoat Stadium...
You started every league game during your time at Doncaster – how important was that for your confidence?
When I went out on loan for the first time, to Gillingham, I started very well and then dropped out of the team, and that was difficult. I then ended up at Plymouth at the back end of last season but that was quite a short space of time, so to go to Doncaster and start every league game was really good for me. The manager [Darren Ferguson] put his trust in me from day one, I only had about three training sessions and then he started me in the first game of the season, which was pleasing.
What happened at Gillingham knocked my confidence a little, so playing regularly at Doncaster has brought my confidence back up and made me a better player. I felt fitter and stronger than ever. Unfortunately now the injury has come along but I’m sure I can get back to those levels and hopefully even better.
Ferguson clearly has a lot of faith in you, how big a boost was that?
He’s definitely one of the best managers I’ve worked with so far. He’s not only a really good coach, he’s a very nice guy as well. He’s phoned me and told me to keep in touch regarding the injury. He said he’ll always be at the end of the phone if I need anything and that’s nice to know because it’s a big injury. He was a player himself so he understands. I learnt a lot from him.
In terms of playing style, Doncaster switched formations earlier in the season – tell us about your role in the team…
At the start of the season we were playing with a diamond, and I was at the base, and then we changed to a 3-5-2, with me as the deepest of the three central midfielders, so my role was very similar in both formations.
The manager wanted us to play out from the back if possible and playing in that holding midfield role, the ball was always coming through me and I was the lynchpin. It was good for me to play in that position and it required a lot of trust from the manager. A lot of managers would have maybe shied away from putting one of the younger players in that role, and looked for experience. I was able to get on the ball a lot which was not only good for my development but also enabled me to show people what I can do.
In November you were nominated for the League Two Player of the Month award.
It was very pleasing but also a bit unexpected. I felt I was doing well but defensive players don’t usually get nominated for those type of awards. I was never really in the reckoning to win it because Omar Bogle, the Grimsby striker, had scored seven goals during the month, but it was really nice to be nominated and get some recognition.
In what ways would you say your game developed during your time at Doncaster?
From having a taster last season of men’s football, this time I just felt like more of a man in terms of my playing style and little things such as winning free-kicks for the team. Playing every game, my fitness levels were high and I felt really strong, which was good. Playing matches all the time is just so good for your confidence and hopefully when I get back I will be able to progress further.
After you sustained the anterior cruciate ligament injury, Ferguson was very complimentary about you and said the team were hoping to win the title in order for you to get a medal, which must have been very nice to hear…
Yes, definitely. It was always in my thoughts when it happened that I wouldn’t just go back to Chelsea and forget about Doncaster. I played a big part in what they’ve done this season, so I always planned on going back up there this season and going to watch a few games. I think they still have to play Colchester and Wycombe, which are down this way, so I’ll definitely be going to those now I’m off the crutches. Hopefully the title will be all wrapped up by the last home game and I can drive up there to collect a medal.
You sustained the injury in a game against Luton in February, how has the rehab been going?
It’s still in the early stages but it’s going well. I’m off the crutches now and doing some work in the pool so it’s just a case of gradually building it up and then we can start outdoors in a few months. If everything is going smoothly, which it is at the moment, I’m hoping to be back training around July or August, but I can’t rush it, I need to make sure everything is okay. I’m still in the early stages of my career and I need to make sure there are no problems long term.
Have you had a chance to speak to Kurt Zouma, who has also come back from a long-term injury?
I’ve been through it before so I know what to expect, but when I first came back to Cobham the likes of Zouma and Diego Costa went out of their way to ask me how everything was going, which was nice. It’s a little bit of reassurance to see people who have come through similar and are still playing at the highest level.
Lastly, the Chelsea youth team have now secured their place in a sixth consecutive FA Youth Cup final. Having won the competition, do you still keep an eye on our Academy results and how important was the Youth Cup in your development?
Yes, I always keep an eye on the results and hopefully I’ll be able to get along to the final. They have a great coach in Jody Morris, and long may our great record in the competition continue. It’s an incredible record and it just goes to show the great work Neil Bath and everybody in the Academy is doing.
To date, winning the Youth Cup is my biggest achievement, and I’ve read interviews with players who have been in the game for 20 years who still look back on winning the Youth Cup with immense pride. It’s a big thing, the start of your career in many ways.
I scored in the final, when we produced a brilliant comeback to beat Fulham in 2014, so I have some great memories from playing in the competition and hopefully we can win it again this season.