If Jon Toral’s time with Hull City is to end this summer, something that cannot be ruled out with little more than four months left on his contract, his epitaph will inevitably question what might have been.
The graceful playmaker, as skilled as any City team-mate, has been able to make just 19 league starts across three seasons at the KCOM Stadium and only three of those have come since May 2018.
Injuries have stalked Toral during his stay in East Yorkshire, cruelly tripping him up just as he began to hit his stride.
Fortune has seldom been a friend of the Spaniard and this season has only served to extend the pattern. No sooner had Toral overcome a hamstring injury that brought a two-month lay-off, surgery on knee ligament damage brought a further three-month absence.
It was what happened in between those setbacks, though, that has underlined what City have been missing.
Three starts helped bring three wins over Nottingham Forest, Derby County and Fulham back in late autumn.
The last of those, a 3-0 victory at Craven Cottage, was the point when the brakes were again applied on Toral’s season to leave him hankering for a chance that could come away to Preston North End this afternoon.
“The knee is good,” said Toral. “The rehab all went well and I’ve been back training for a couple of weeks now. I’m good to go. You never know about your fitness until you get back into the matches but I can’t wait to get going.
“It’s a question for the gaffer but I’m ready to go.”
Toral grins at that moment, knowing that three more months of rehabilitation work has led to another potential comeback this weekend.
Thirteen games remain for the midfielder to rescue another season wrecked by injuries and there is a determination not to look back.
“I don’t know why but I was pretty positive about it all this time,” said Toral. “It was something that needed to be done, it’s been done, the knee is fixed and I’m good to go. That’s the positive.
“Sometimes when you’ve been out you have to trust your body again but in this case I’ve never felt that I’ve not trusted it at this point.
“I was pretty comfortable after surgery and the rehab has gone pretty well. I’ve felt good and there’s been no setbacks.
“I don’t feel like I need to trust my body again because I already do. I’ve been in a good mood around the place and at home. There’s not been too much to worry about.
“I haven’t had the feeling of ‘why me?’ because it’s football. If we didn’t want to get injured then we’d do something else. It comes with the job.
“You have to move on and get better with other things in the gym, get stronger and be ready for when you come back. That’s what I've done and hopefully I can do that now.”
Toral has known dark times with City and he is desperate for them not to return between now and May. His personal wishes are simple enough.
“The aim is to finish the season well,” he said. “There’s 13 games to go and I want to enjoy every bit of it on the pitch. I’ve not been able to do that for the last three months but hopefully I can make these last 13 games more enjoyable for me.
“I’ll give it my all and hopefully by the end of the season I’ll have positive feelings.
“Every training session, every little game, every minute on the pitch is that bit more enjoyable. “You’ve tasted what it’s like not be involved, knowing you can’t be out there day to day with the lads. It is tough when you’re out but when you come back there’s a better flavour to it this time.”
Toral, however, knows there is a lot more riding on these final 13 games than just 39 points. In a season that has so far only seen him play 252 minutes of Championship football, he needs to show something more if City are willing to trigger a 12-month extension.
The 25-year-old would be an expensive gamble for the Tigers to take in 2020-21 on the terms of his current salary.
“That’s probably not a question for me,” said Toral, when asked about the need to prove his fitness levels between now and May.
“The club have got the option of the extra year. I haven’t heard anything, I’ll just do what I do and enjoy my football. If I can do that then I’ll be happy. I’ll just be happy to be out on the pitch, if I’m honest.
“I like it here. My family is settled, the kids are settled. If I’m wanted, here I am.”
The quest to earn a long-term future could resume in earnest at Deepdale, where City will aim to secure a first win in eight games. Not since New Year’s Day has McCann’s side found three points from a Championship date, triggering a fall from eighth to the obscurity of 17th.
“I wouldn’t look too far ahead,” insisted Toral. “We’ve got three games this week and we’ll be looking to win all three. If we do that then we’d be back in the mix. That’s the mentality we need.
“If we can go to Preston and get a win, all of a sudden the mood is back and everyone is happy. But we can only take it game by game and get as many wins as we can.
“Any team will suffer when they’re not winning but we need to keep our heads high and keep going. “We can’t do anything about the games that have gone. We’ve shown that we can compete against anyone and it’s something I’ve learned in the Championship that anyone can beat anyone. We’ll go to Preston with the mentality to win.”