I recall sitting back in January thinking ‘only one thing can derail us now’, as in my head I plotted an away trip to the City Ground next season.
With a great manager, exciting players and a clear pattern of playing, I could only see injuries threatening our charge to the Championship. As we sit right now, that awful issue is becoming a cold, hard reality for the club, and in the wake of our 4-3 defeat at Plymouth, we are now stood on a precipice, looking over at imminent collapse through little fault of our own.
Michael Appleton has said this morning a win tomorrow night would represent one of his best achievements as a manager, and yet the bookies and pundits will be expecting us to beat Fleetwood. If we don’t, it won’t be the end of our promotion push, but it will be the continuation of a bad run that has started, coincidentally, with one player’s injury.
Heading into our 0-0 draw with Hull back in early February, we had won seven in ten. However, Liam Bridcutt limped off against the Tigers and we have since won one in six. The good form over Christmas has ensured we remain in the top two, but failure to take at least four points from the next two games would surely see us drop into the mire of the play-offs. I say ‘mire’, we would have settled for that ahead of the season starting, but right now it would be a bitter pill to swallow.
Swallow it we may not have to, because we do have a young squad of talented players, but with the latest injuries we have suffered, all experience has been ripped from the heart of our team. If we are to beat Fleetwood tomorrow night, we are going to need one or two players to really stand up and be counted. Bear in mind, Portsmouth play Doncaster and Oxford play Peterborough – a win could really give us a massive boost heading into a critical month.
Who are we going to have to do without? Here is a comprehensive list of who is currently out, and how long for.
Striker Morton has been out of action since September 19th and will be much like a new signing when he does return. He is back in training with City, which is some good news, but he won’t feature tomorrow against Fleetwood. There is a suggestion he could return for the visit of Crewe next weekend, which might offer us another option in attacking areas.
Walsh has been a huge miss in recent weeks, and his current lay-off is expected to be ‘the longest one’ of those we’re currently experiencing. MA suggested that Liam Bridcutt would be another three weeks, so Joe Walsh will be longer than that; don’t expect to see him until April. It’s the third spell on the sidelines for the Welshman this season – he didn’t appear until the 0-0 draw with Fleetwood in October, then missed most of November too. His last outing came as we drew 2-2 with Accrington.
For my money, this is the biggest loss. Bridcutt is a leader on the field and the pivot around which the rest of the team moves. He’s struggled a bit with injuries this season, this is his third spell out, and his presence in the holding midfield role is certainly missed. He is expected to be out for another three weeks, so could miss matches against Fleetwood, Crewe, Ipswich, Gillingham, Rochdale and possibly Sunderland.
Remy is a fresh injury worry, and another of our attacking options lost. He’s not been injured much before this season but wasn’t in the squad for the Swindon game despite appearing as a late sub against Wigan. The duration of his injury is not known and it could be that he appears in the squad against Crewe, but he too is likely to miss tomorrow’s game.
This is a scary one. Grant has more goals and assists combined than anyone in our squad, and as soon as he hit the deck in the dying stages of Saturday’s game, you knew it looked serious. He won’t play tomorrow and is likely to have a scan this week, but it looks likely to be a long lay-off. This is a huge blow, he has covered for Bridcutt in the middle of the park, but now we have lost both holding midfielders for a key period. From what I can tell, it would be a huge surprise if we see Grant at all in March, and beyond that is unclear.
Harry would be a great option at present, but he too is still out. Michael suggested this morning it could be ten days, which means he will miss Fleetwood, Crewe and Ipswich, perhaps making it back for Rochdale a week on Saturday. Harry appeared upbeat on Match Day Live this weekend, explaining how this was the first injury of its type he has had, and therefore it was unclear how long he might be out. Of the injured senior players, expect him back first.
Last, and perhaps as damaging as any right now, is Adam Jackson. He is due to go for a scan this week after picking up an injury against Plymouth and that means we’re down to one senior centre back – the out-of-form Lewis Montsma. Jackson is unlikely to appear tomorrow, which almost certainly means an Eyoma and Montsma centre-back pairing. It seems that a recall of Max Melbourne is not possible either, the obvious shout in terms of our thin squad, so losing another central defender is a huge blow.
A little later, I’ll have a look at what this possibly means for our starting XI tomorrow evening.