As we take in the news that yet another first-team player is out for a big game, I got to wondering exactly how much our season had been affected by injuries.
Adam Jackson will not be in tomorrow’s squad, and were he fit he would be. The same goes for Tom Hopper, Jorge Grant and Joe Walsh, and with Brennan Johnson missing too, that is five players likely to have started the game who cannot do so. Harry Anderson is on his way back from injury too, and despite coming through 90 minutes against Salford in the friendly this week, is yet to make an impact since his Covid issues earlier in the season.
In fact, when you also consider Liam Bridcutt only has one full 90 minutes in the tank since his lay off, we are not just down to the bare bones, we’re completed and utterly decimated. We are being forced to rely on players like Callum Morton, out for five months of the season, and Tayo Edun who has more positions this season than the extended version of the Karma Sutra. Despite this, we still go into the game fourth, knowing a win will effectively end Oxford’s chances of catching us up.
Still, what could we have done if we had been at full strength for even half of the season? That got me thinking – how often have we actually been at full strength, and what is our record in those matches?
To clarify this, I suppose we have to discuss what ‘full strength’ actually looks like, both before and after the transfer window. If the players I class as being starting XI were fit, but not picked, then that still counts as us being at full strength, only an absence through injury of one of the players can be counted as not being at full strength.
I know this will be open to debate, but this is what I think ‘full strength’ was prior to the January window opening – Palmer, Eyoma, Edun, Montsma, Walsh, Bridcutt, Jones, Grant, Anderson, Hopper, Johnson. For me, Montsma was definitely ahead of Adam Jackson and I think the latter’s dip in form after his sending off against Bristol Rovers probably meant Joe Walsh was favoured too. The midfield dynamic was interesting, but McGrandles is the one I’ve left out. It seems a travesty now, but James Jones certainly looked livelier up until his Covid layoff. I know up top some might say Scully for Anderson, but I think Harry edged it in terms of us being full strength.
I’m only going to discuss League One matches too because cup games you don’t always need to be at full strength, and certainly fringe players get a run out in EFL Trophy encounters. That means up to January 1st, we played 19 matches. How many of those did we field (or have the potential to field) what could be classed as a full-strength side?
Liam Bridcutt didn’t come back into the side until we played MK Dons on September 19, and Joe Walsh only came back for our 0-0 draw with Fleetwood Town on October 17. That means even before we signed Brennan Johnson, who made his debut in the game against Charlton, we couldn’t be full strength because of those absences. Therefore, the first games in which we could field our full-strength side were against Fleetwood, the 2-0 win against Plymouth, and the 1-0 win against Ipswich on October 24, although we opted to rest Tom Hopper for that game. Sadly, Liam Bridcutt was then injured for our next encounter away at Crewe. He returned for the November draw away at Accrington, but by then Joe Walsh was injured. Walsh returned as we beat Wigan 2-1, but by that point, Bridcutt was injured.
Essentially, up until New Year, the only time we had what you might consider being a full-strength starting XI was the Fleetwood draw and Plymouth and Ipswich wins. Bearing in mind Adam Jackson was injured for Fleetwood and Walsh perhaps came through 90 minutes much earlier than he should have, it is a push to count that game, but by my own rules, I will.
If you were to change the constraints and say that a combination of any two of Walsh and Jackson is fine, then things would be a bit different, but remember we still had fewer attacking options thanks to the loss of Callum Morton. However, if you pick what could be regarded as the strongest XI for that period and apply it to every game, we only had the luxury of a full squad once.
Full Strength: 3 – PPG 2.33
Weakened: 16 – PPG 1.93