Luke Shaw feeling positive and fighting for Manchester United future
For a brief moment, the hearts of the 2,136 Manchester United fans at Leigh Sports Village were in their mouths.
Luke Shaw was only 15 minutes into his latest comeback when George Byers, a 21-year-old midfielder playing for Swansea's Under-23 team, crashed into him.
It may be just the way he plays, or that you are naturally drawn to those tackles when he is involved because of his history with injuries, but Shaw does seem to take more than his fair share of heavy knocks.
One comeback against Bournemouth in March last season -- it was his first Premier League start for four months -- began with a crunching challenge from Andrew Surman.
Then he bounced straight back up and, playing for United's Under-23s against Swansea's youngsters on Monday night, he did the same.
Jose Mourinho wasn't there, choosing instead to watch Manchester City draw with Everton at the Etihad, but head of development John Murtagh and new U23s coach Ricky Sbragia were tasked with reporting back.
Shaw was able to laugh about it after the game.
"It's better to have those challenges early on than later because sometimes you think about it," he said, having played an hour of football for the first time since damaging ankle ligaments on April 30.
Shaw was the star attraction in a stadium usually reserved for Super League side Leigh Centurions.
The crowd urged him forward from left-back every time he got the ball. He paid them back at the end, stopping to sign autographs and take photographs after the final whistle.
After disappearing down the tunnel a security guard re-appeared to hand his No.3 shirt to a young fan who had waited around in the west Manchester drizzle. Shaw had asked him to do it.
There are countless other stories of Shaw's generosity.
He donated a pair of boots as a prize for the half time raffle at Leigh. Last week, he took a fan on a guided tour of Old Trafford. It is part of his appeal.
Chatting in front of the modest dug-outs at Leigh on Monday, he said he was "happy" and "positive" -- words he has not always been associated with since that broken leg in Eindhoven nearly two years ago.
That summer, Louis van Gaal sat in a hotel room in San Jose during the tour of the United States and declared the coming season to be "the year of Luke Shaw". It looked like he might be right until that Champions League trip.
Shaw was in the U.S. again this summer, but this time with a watching brief while he continued his rehabilitation. He says he is grateful to Mourinho for bringing him along, but admitted to feeling frustrated at watching his teammates line up against Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Fit again, he might get the chance to put that right in the Champions League this season.
That is there where Shaw's biggest challenge lies: to convince Mourinho he deserves to start the biggest games. Liverpool at Anfield on Oct. 14, perhaps, or a possible date with Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Juventus in the Champions League group stage.
He should be buoyed that his position still appears to be available. Matteo Darmian and Daley Blind -- neither of whom are natural left-backs -- have had a go but Mourinho does not seem particularly convinced by either.
United have had a look at Kieran Tierney at Celtic and Ryan Sessegnon at Fulham while there is also a long-standing interest in Tottenham left-back Danny Rose.
But with a week left of the transfer window, Shaw's competition for a place is the same as it was last season. Reduced, even, with Marcos Rojo not expected back from a knee injury until the New Year.
Shaw's camp are yet to hear whether United will take up their option to extend his deal for an extra year until 2019, although sources have told ESPN FC that they will.
Ed Woodward, for one, is a keen admirer while Mourinho, who was publicly critical of Shaw last season, has been impressed with the way he dedicated himself to returning to full fitness over the summer.
Shaw says he feels "more positive" about this return than others he has been through in the last two years. Having taken plenty of knocks, both on and off the pitch, there is new hope that Van Gaal's prophesy could still come true.
Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.