Stoke City teammates and staff have been glad to see each other again in the flesh this week – even if still from at least a 2m distance.
And no more so than Joe Allen, the popular midfielder who has been recovering from an Achilles tendon injury since the last time the club played back on March 7.
The 30-year-old Wales international had surgery within days but has since had to conduct most of his rehabilitation on his own due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The painful injury would have ruled him out for the rest of the season and Euro 2020, which has now been postponed until 2021, but he has rejoined his pals back at Clayton Wood this week as the training ground has reopened.
And as he works to get fit again – he’s been able to chin wag with Wales teammate and Stoke defender James Chester, who is on loan from Aston Villa.
“I’ve had my lunch with Joe Allen for the last couple of days,” said Chester.
“We’ve been parking next to each other, so we decided to eat the food the club have provided while having a nice conversation through our car windows.
“Usually, I would mess about for ages at the training ground after sessions; chat with the lads in the changing room, get a shower, then a bite to eat. Now it’s a pretty slick operation, in and out.”
Stoke players, who are being tested twice a week for Covid-19, have been training in small groups of five – still socially distanced – at intervals spread out through the morning. They are not allowed out of their cars until their set times.
Physios and medical staff are wearing personal protective equipment
Chester and Allen have already been seeing each other online over the past few weeks as they complete a coaching course with the Welsh FA.
Chester has also been keeping fit for nine potentially huge games for Stoke when play returns behind closed doors, hopefully next month – and possibly on June 20, although that is yet to be confirmed.
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He writes in his weekly column for The Athletic: “As players, we haven’t yet been told about our first game back. We are just waiting to hear a date. I hope it does start because otherwise all these exercises we’ve been doing to stay fit will have been wasted.
“And I don’t want it to count for nothing that I went food shopping while still in my full kit, as I did on Friday straight after training. That was a new low. I got some funny looks down the veg aisle.”