SEVENTEEN months is a long time in football and would feel even longer if your playing carer had effectively come to a stand-still. After making his long-awaited return to the professional stage, though, Stuart Parnaby is ready to roll again.

Despite spending the whole of last season without a club after playing his last game for Birmingham City in May last year, Parnaby figured in a Middlesbrough team for the first time since that afternoon at Preston North End on Tuesday night.

Match fitness is always a key issue with footballers, but the 30-year-old turned in a display against League One opposition that has left him even more confident he can succeed in his second stint at the Riverside Stadium.

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Parnaby was effective going forward and solid defensively in atrocious conditions as Middlesbrough moved in to the last-16 of the Capital One Cup.

While progress in the competition was good for the club as a whole, the chance to play his part in the 3-1 victory has left Parnaby hungry for more.

“It's been a year and a half I've waited for the chance to play a competitive game, I'm just buzzing. It's a big relief,” said Parnaby. “Once I got going I didn't really think about it. It was about easing my way in and my body feels good afterwards.

“It is about being patient. I have felt better every week I have been training. I know it will take time to get to the level I once was and Tuesday was a step towards that.

“I got 90 minutes, felt good and did myself justice. I've got to go on from here, Justin Hoyte is playing well at right-back at the moment, so I know I have to be patient. I'm just chuffed to be involved at the minute at a football club - especially back at Middlesbrough, which is a big thing for me.

“There were a few times when it went through my mind if that was it (career over), when things went wrong for me, but luckily I am quite a relaxed and chilled out person. I just kept my head and luckily the gaffer called me!”

Tony Mowbray's decision to hand Parnaby a contract in the summer justified the Durham-born defender's decision to spend the whole of last season training at the club rather than accept a deal further down the football ladder.

He will always be remembered as being part of the club during the Steve McClaren era, when Middlesbrough won the Carling Cup and reached the UEFA Cup final in 2006.

Much has changed around the club since, with Mowbray having to work to a much tighter budget and the new-look squad is still bedding in.

Parnaby was part of a team at Preston that had 11 changes to that which won at Blackburn last Friday night. A similar amount of changes could be made for Saturday's match with Leicester in the Championship.

Parnaby, whose previous game for Middlesbrough was back in April 2007, is not expecting to start, although with Hoyte nursing a hamstring problem he knows he has to be ready for the call.

He said: “We were a completely new back five at Preston and I think we restricted them really. We were disappointed with the goal we conceded, but that can happen when you haven't played for a while.

“The gaffer picked a team to go and win and it showed the strength and depth there is at the club.

“If you look at the dressing room, we have a great set of lads, we are all in it for the same reason and we want to go up, do well. If we can all stick together then we can do it.

“It won't work if people are getting upset with not playing. We are in it for a long season, there could be 60 odd games, we just have to be at it every day and stick together, keep the spirit right.”