InterviewLayton Stewart: It's great to be back, I just want to score lots of goals
Layton Stewart was born to score goals.
The Scouse forward, who was out for more than 13 months with an ACL injury, is firing once again in 2022-23.
After netting 17 goals for the U18s and U23s, his 2020-21 season was then brought to a sudden halt when he was stretchered off the field in a Premier League 2 encounter with West Ham United in March 2021.
The injury was to keep him out of action until April 2022, when he made his comeback for the U23s against the same club.
Leading the line for the U21s, he has started the new season in great form, netting fine strikes against Brighton & Hove Albion, Salford City and Leicester City.
His potential has also seen him training with the first-team squad this season at the AXA Training Centre.
“It’s great for me to be back playing again,” Stewart told Liverpoolfc.com. “Obviously I was out for such a long time, so it’s just great to get back playing, getting minutes in my legs again and being back around the boys is good for me.
“I feel I am getting sharper in every training session. The more I play, the more minutes I get and the more training I do, I feel like I’m getting better each day.
“I feel like I’m starting to get into a bit of form and get my rhythm back.”
During his time out on the sidelines, Stewart had some great support from home and at the Academy – encouragement he will never forget.
“In the end it was 13 months out and it’s the toughest thing I’ve faced in my career so far,” he admitted.
“I’ve never been injured, you see, so to get such a big injury and have such a long spell on the sidelines was tough for me. But the lads all helped me, especially Tom Hill who had the same injury, so I had him by my side.
“The staff, the physios Paul Kelly, Scott McAuley and Tony Jones were all brilliant with me and stood by me throughout the whole injury, which I will always be so grateful for.
“To be fair, they were probably glad to see the back of me and away from the treatment table the amount of questions I was asking them!
“They were there for me no matter what, ringing Kells and Scotty late at night for some advice. I’ve also got a great family and they supported me so much and helped me through it.
“It was tough but at the same time it gave me more fight to get myself back and playing with the lads again.”
Stewart was also keen to acknowledge the guidance from U21s head coach Barry Lewtas, who he has worked under throughout the age groups in Kirkby.
“Barry was brilliant with me,” he added. “He was by my side throughout the injury. He was always checking in on me, ringing me and I won’t forget it.”
With his strength of character being tested throughout the injury process, Stewart insists he has learned invaluable lessons.
“Before my injury I wasn’t that mentally strong, being totally honest,” he said.
“When I had a bad game I was always hard on myself but since my injury, I know I’m mentally stronger.
“I know how to deal with big step-backs and little step-backs and that is helping me in my game.”
After making his return appearance off the bench against the Hammers last term, Lewtas then handed Stewart his No.9 jersey for the Premier League 2 clash against Leicester City.
He netted with a superb strike and then ran over to celebrate with Kelly, McAuley, Lewtas and the staff.
“That goal meant everything to me,” he reflected. “It was everything I had been working towards throughout the injury.
“As you know, goalscoring means everything to me as a striker, and not being able to get on the scoresheet for such a long time was difficult.
“It was just a shame I made my comeback just as the season was ending. I felt like I wanted to keep it going and keep playing, but I kept on working hard, had a good pre-season and thought I did quite well considering how long I’ve been out.
“I’m just starting now to get into a bit of rhythm and hopefully I can kick on now and score lots of goals.”
Highlights: Leicester City 0-1 Liverpool U21s
Stewart is set to feature for the U21s in the Papa Johns Trophy when the Reds take on Rochdale tonight at Crown Oil Arena (kick-off 7pm BST).
He was on the scoresheet during the previous group encounter against Salford City in a narrow 2-1 loss.
Lewtas has already stated a big reason for entering the U21s in the Papa Johns Trophy is for his players to gain vital experience in senior football.
Stewart shares that view, considering it a perfect competition for the players’ development.
He added: “It is different because we are playing against senior players, which brings a different challenge.
“There’s a crowd there, they are mostly all against you really and it’s a tough challenge against senior players.
“It’s different for the lads and it gives us a different insight into what we need to do if we go out on loan and further our careers.
“But it is good experience for us all. It was a nice feeling to get a goal against Salford City and hopefully I can do the same against Rochdale and help the lads.
“I thought we did well against Salford City. We created some good chances and I think if the game had carried on a bit longer, we were getting closer to scoring again.
“When we play in these games we want to give the best account of ourselves and Barry always tells us go out there and play with no fear, give it our all.
“We are quite a young side at U21 level this season but we are all hungry to do well and impress and repay the faith Barry and the staff show in us.”
Stewart, who has been at the Academy since the age of seven, has also taken a lot of confidence from training with the first-team set-up on a regular basis this season.
“It’s been great for me and I’ve been fortunate to train with the first team quite a few times this season,” he said.
“It is a really good insight when you get the chance and you realise just how difficult it is, but that is my ultimate aim: to train with them as much as I can and try to show what I can do. I just have to keep working hard and scoring goals for the U21s and keep impressing.
“The likes of the manager, Pep Lijnders and Vitor Matos are great with the young players. They are always helping us, talking to us around the building and giving us advice.
“We have a manager who gives young lads a first-team opportunity if you deserve to, so that’s my aim – to do as well as I can and get in and around the first-team set-up in the future.”