EXACTLY three years ago, Stuart Holden was plunged into a nightmare run of serious injuries that have threatened his playing career – but the Wanderers star refuses to feel bitter as he begins another brave comeback attempt.

With just under 15 minutes remaining of a game at Old Trafford on March 19, 2011, Holden was the heartbeat of Owen Coyle’s swaggering side that looked well capable of qualifying for Europe.

Wanderers were sitting seventh in the Premier League and had one eye on an FA Cup semi-final meeting with Stoke City a few weeks later.

The American midfielder’s stock had never been higher – and United were one of a number of big English clubs who were closely monitoring his development from barely-known MLS import to Coyle’s undoubted MVP.

Then, in an instant, it was gone.

A ball was there to be won on the edge of the box and United defender Jonny Evans flew into the challenge. His studs drove deep into Holden’s knee, shattering his femoral bone and leaving a gash that required 26 stitches.

The Irishman was sent off immediately by referee Andre Marriner but his punishment now looks embarrassingly brief compared with what was to come for the Whites’ star man.

His first comeback lasted just one glorious game, against Aston Villa in the League Cup, before further surgery was required. His second looked to be successful before disaster struck in last summer’s Gold Cup final playing for his country. A third comeback ended just 23 minutes into a development squad game at the Reebok.

In total, Holden has started just one game in 36 months for Bolton, and appeared in just four more as a substitute. His club, meanwhile, have slipped from those lofty heights and now sit 17th in the Championship.

Holden is currently in California after undergoing knee surgery last Monday and faces up to nine months on the sidelines. The 28-year-old’s contract with the Whites expires in a few months but Dougie Freedman has already stated his intention to stick by his man, no matter what.

Despite such misfortune, there isn’t a shred of resentment in Holden’s voice as he prepares to tread a familiar path once again.

“It’s more frustrating than anything,” he said. “It’s easy to harbour those feelings and think about ‘what if? Or why did he do that, and be angry.’ “Those are all natural and I definitely have felt those emotions down the years as I suffered setback after setback but I’ve learned in my life not to dwell on those things because I can’t change them.

“Why be this angry little man crawled up in the corner pouting and thinking about how things could have been?

“I’ve done things that I’m not proud of and you deal with it, and move on.

“I’d rather move on and focus on getting back, dealing with the setbacks and the injuries that have been thrown my way.”

Plenty of onlookers, at home and across the pond, are forecasting that Holden’s present injury – a second successive ACL in his right knee – will be his last.

It is impossible to take that view entirely, however, when you hear the conviction in the American’s voice as he targets a return to the pitch next season.

“I’m ready to get back on the horse,” he said in a web interview with YouTube channel Soccer Morning. “It was obviously a setback personally and there were a lot of emotions flying around but I’m well and truly feeling like I want to do this thing again.

“It’s frustrating when you keep asking yourself ‘why do you keep having these setbacks? And why is it a big injury after big injury.’ “But I am a warrior and that’s my mentality. I won’t give up because I know I still have a lot left to give the game.

“My work ethic, my mentality will get me there again and I’m confident in my medical team can get me back to where I’ll be playing with no problems.”

Dougie Freedman’s show of support a few weeks ago included a promise to keep Holden around the club “in whatever capacity” – which led to speculation that he could be offered a coaching role if his hard work does not come to fruition.

The man himself is keen to keep his focus on returning to the pitch but admits he would consider remaining in the game in some capacity when he decides to hang up his boots for good.

“I’ve been asked a few times and I’m not sure,” he said. “I find it hard to think about when I consider myself an active player.

“If the right opportunity presented itself then I’d consider it but I see myself more getting into the media side of the game or the front office work.”