LAST summer teenage winger Bobby Grant was told he had a hole in his heart and feared his short football career may be over.
Ten months later, he is billed as the future of Accrington, having played his part in the game which virtually guaranteed the club’s league survival.
The 17-year-old made his Football League home debut against Dagenham on Friday night.
Defender Phil Edwards was the goal hero - scoring his second ever league goal - as his header steered the Reds to a vital three points in their battle against the drop.
But it was left winger Grant who was the toast of the clubhouse afterwards offering plenty of hope for the future of Stanley in a week where four other apprentices - Jay Bell, Peter Murphy, Andrew Smith and Chris Turner - all signed professional terms.
But Grant has already overcome a big hurdle in his football life.
He came to Stanley two years ago, impressed in the youth team but suffered a cartilage injury in his first year.
After several reserve outings, he finally made his first team debut - aged 16 - in the final game of last season setting up a goal for David Brown at MK Dons and there was plenty of hope that there was more to come from him.
But he suffered a setback in the summer when, on a routine health check as part of being a YTS, he was found with a hole in his heart - and thought his career was over.
"That was really scarey," said the Liverpudlian.
"I was at Liverpool Academy for five years but no one noticed there and it was just a routine check-up and they said they had found a hole in my heart.
"I didn’t know what to say. I wondered what was going to happen and I did wonder if it would end my career.
"I spoke to the physio and the doctor and they reassured me it wasn’t and told me I would be running again in two weeks - I made sure it was a week and a half!
"It did help in that team-mate Peter Murphy was also diagnosed with a hole in his heart and we were in rooms next door to each other for our operations.
"They left me until last so I did get more and more worried that mine was the worst!
"But it turned out it was a pretty routine operation and they have patched it up and I have no marks or scars. Now I don’t think about it."
His recovery overlapped with the start of the season and then various niggles have forced him out of action.
But Coleman kept faith with him and brought him on against Macclesfield in the 2-1 loss two weeks ago and then gave him his home debut on Friday.
"I enjoyed making my debut at MK Dons but I have got to say I was nervous but once you start playing you do tend to forget," said the teenager.
"My home debut was more important though and I did feel even more nervous.
"You are in front of your home fans and you don’t want them to think you are rubbish!
"But I think I did okay and now I just want to carry on and try and keep my place in the first team.
"After the game, one of the fans came up to me and said "We will be lucky to keep hold of you" which was nice and then I felt a bit embarrassed when the fans started singing my name.
"I didn’t know what to do as it had never happened before and I just put my head down!"
But the youngster now wants to make his mark.
"I am only 17 and I am pleased Accrington have given me this chance," he said.
"I was just playing for Liverpool County, having been released by Liverpool FC, and Phil Hackney saw me and asked me to come to Accrington as they were starting a youth system.
"I had never even heard of Accrington Stanley and didn’t know where I was coming to.
"Then I turned up, saw Cav (Peter Cavanagh) who I recognised from Liverpool FC, found out there were plenty of Scousers here and they took me under their wing.
"I have been here two years now, settled in and just want to play for the first team regularly."
Stanley have had a history of good wingers in Russell Payne, Rory Prendergast and Gary Roberts.
Grant admitted he took inspiration from Roberts, who moved to Ipswich.
"I used to love watching Gary play," said Grant. "I used to watch him all the time and he has done really well.
"I love playing on the left wing and love running with the ball and getting at people. Jimmy (Bell) says what I need to improve is my defending but I am okay with Leam (Richardson) behind me!
"I want to provide the crosses for the strikers like Mullers (Paul Mullin) and Shaun (Whalley) although I would love to get my first goal as well."
Unfortunately for Grant, the only goal on Friday fell to Edwards who headed home superbly in a game the Reds needed to win.
Four successive defeats had left them looking over their shoulder and a win for Dagenham - who were three points behind them in the league prior to Friday - could have meant more end of season nerves for John Coleman’s side.
Along with Grant, the Reds chief brought captain Peter Cavanagh back in, despite the skipper only playing half a game in the last four months following an Achilles operation, with Aswad Thomas back at Charlton and Jay Harris dropping out of the starting eleven.
The rain just before kick off made it a muddy Friday night but referee Dean Whitestone - who had let Stanley play in worse conditions at Peterborough - gave the match the nod.
And it was a lively opening with Grant and Leam Richardson working well on the left side and a cross was whipped in with Mark Arber just getting there before it found Paul Mullin’s head.
In a similar situation, Ian Craney this time played the ball in but it just missed the head of Edwards while Mullin was inches away from connecting with the ball at the far post.
It was all Accrington with Richardson again doing all the hard work and playing in a cross from the by-line which got stuck in the mud and Scott Griffiths was able to clear off the line.
Stanley were certainly showing they wanted the win with Daggers top scorer Ben Strevens limited by another stunning defensive display by Edwards.
But he then turned goal-hero just after the break when he leapt highest to Craney’s inswinging corner and headed it past Tony Roberts in the Daggers’ goal.
They should have had another after a Grant ball sent Shaun Whalley through and he played in a superb cross with Ross Smith clearing it before Mullin found Procter who dallied too long to get a shot in.
However the introduction of Daggers front man Jon Nurse then caused problems on 52 minutes as they went three-up front and then they took hold of the game. Edwards kept out a Shane Huke effort off the line while Daggers hero Paul Benson headed over from just six yards out.
Strevens almost scored a wonder goal with an overhead kick which was marginally over the goal as the Reds failed to clear their lines and the visitors piled on the pressure.
They forced a number of late corners and their long throw caused problems in the area with keeper Kenny Arthur repeatedly having to come out and clear it as they looked for a deserved equaliser.
Then - as against MK Dons - the game erupted in the final minute. Richardson, who had already been booked, took too long with a throw-in and the referee eventually lost patience giving him a second booking and a red card.
Then, while he was walking off, Craney and Peter Gain got involved in an off-the-ball incident which led to nearly all the players joining in.
Referee Whitehead showed them both a yellow card in a heated end to what had been an otherwise clean game against the old non-league foes.
Coleman, while relieved with the win, was not happy with his side’s show.
"It was a massive win," he said. "We played some good football in the first half but were absolutely abysmal in the second half.
"We should not be sitting on a one-nil win and I am not sure if it was nerves and we got edgy as we have not won a lot of games at home.
"But I was pleased for Phil to get his goal - that has probably capped three or four sterling performances from him and Bobby shaded Man of the Match for me. He is good on the ball and put in a number of good deliveries."
With praise from his manager too, there are high hopes for the teenager.