Oxford United are keeping tight-lipped over goalkeeper Ryan Clarke’s injury – but manager Chris Wilder has no qualms about relying on Wayne Brown for the rest of the season if necessary.
Clarke damaged a muscle around his ribs during Easter Monday’s clash with Torquay United and his lack of mobility contributed to the U’s conceding a late equaliser in the 2-2 draw.
The 29-year-old has not missed a single minute of league football for the past two seasons, but the run is in danger of coming to an end against Gillingham tomorrow.
Wilder was giving little away yesterday, but reiterated his faith in Brown.
He said: “As we always do, we’ll give him as long as possible, so it’ll be right up to kick-off. He’s obviously got a problem, but we’ll wait and see.
“We have a real able deputy in Browny if he has to come in, for one game, two games or even seven, depending on how we are with Clarkey.”
Brown joined the U’s last summer after a season in South Africa with SuperSport United.
Clarke’s consistency means the 35-year-old’s opportunities have been limited to two Johnstone’s Paint Trophy ties, the second of which saw him sent off after just 12 minutes against Southend.
Despite not playing any first-team football since November, Wilder is confident Brown, who has almost 500 appearances under his belt, will step in with the minimum of fuss.
He said: “I have no issues with Browny, he’s not a kid, he’s a confident boy in his own ability and has played in big games.
“He’s the type of character who I should imagine would really be looking forward to it if he has to step in.”
Injuries to key players have been a recurring theme for the U’s this season, with Clarke the latest in a long line of problems for the side to cope with.
Wilder is envious of rivals with more settled sides and believes it has been an impact on their position in the table.
He said: “The players have done remarkably well, I’m proud of the way we’ve overcome these setbacks because we could have felt sorry for ourselves, but we’ve got on with it.
“There’s no doubt about it in my mind, if we’d have had the same situation as Torquay where they haven’t changed the team for 15 games, I’m sure we’d be pushing to get out of this league
l Big match preview: Pages 46-47