London (AFP) - Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher returned to action on Monday in the latest stage of his battle to recover from a serious stomach illness.
Fletcher has played just 13 games since announcing he was taking an extended break from football in November 2011 after being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.
The 29-year-old has since undergone several operations the last of which took place in January, and been put on a strict dietary regime in a bid to correct his stomach condition.
Scotland international Fletcher was finally given the all-clear to return to training last week and on Monday took the first steps towards featuring for David Moyes' side by playing 67 minutes for United's Under-21 team in their 2-2 draw against Fulham.
"I've been training for a few weeks now and the next progression is to get some match-time. I enjoyed it," Fletcher told MUTV.
"The plan was to get to half time and see how I felt. Then get to 60 minutes and take it from there and, although I felt I could have gone on a bit longer, the plan was not to play more than that so I'm better sticking to the plan and not upsetting the sports science lads."
Fletcher also saluted the club and his family for their help in helping him get back onto the pitch after such a gruelling struggle.
"They've been great, especially the doc Steve McNally. He's worked closely with me, getting myself right and back, and the support from the club has been fantastic - from Sir Alex Ferguson to the new manager and David Gill," Fletcher said.
"It's been tough. Luckily, I've got a great family around me - my wife, children, mum, dad and sisters. It's a great family and, if it was not for them, I wouldn't be standing here today.
"They keep me going, keep me motivated and lift me when I'm down. All these factors contributed to me standing here today on the road to recovery."