THERE was always the likelihood that Oxford United’s hectic schedule would put a strain on the squad – and Karl Robinson has some big decisions to make tomorrow.

The head coach spent an hour yesterday morning attempting to find the right answer when it came to selecting a team to face Sunderland.

That is not unusual 48 hours before a game, but this time the discussion centred around how they could best put an XI together.

Also read: Oxford United's clash with Sunderland expected to be hit by Storm Dennis

Liam Kelly and Jamie Hanson have joined Marcus Browne in the treatment room this week, while Alex Gorrin starts a two-game suspension.

Add to that George Thorne and Anthony Forde lacking match fitness after long injury lay-offs, plus James Henry and Cameron Brannagan still finding their feet, and it starts to get complicated.

Robinson admitted it was a challenge, particularly given the departures of Chris Cadden, Shandon Baptiste and Tariqe Fosu last month.

“When you think it’s all those players out, plus the three that have gone in the window,” he said.

“I remember when all this kicked off I said it won’t bite if we keep everybody fit, but when we start getting injuries then what we’ve lost in January will start to bite a little bit.

“But we didn’t expect all this to go on.

“It’s just one of those moments you have in a season.”

Robinson hinted he could change the system tomorrow in order to make the most of what he has available.

And while the impact of Storm Dennis is hardly conducive to the way United want to play, it could make all the difference when it comes to the likes of Forde and Thorne.

The U’s boss said: “The weather may mean it’s a stop-start game, which means you can play players who haven’t played for a while.

Also read: Anthony Forde breathing easily after Oxford United comeback

“If it’s an all-out game where the ball is in play for 70 minutes rather than 55 it becomes a different type of game for different people.”

He added: “I know what I want to do.

“I read an article this morning about Man City playing nine games in 31 days and how no-one has ever seen that, yet we’re playing that in 29.

“It just shows you if it’s difficult for the best players in the world it’s equally difficult for squads like ourselves who are stretched.

“We’re looking forward to it, but the siege mentality has always been here.

“It’s just going to be called upon even more in the next few games.”

All four of United’s meetings with Sunderland have finished 1-1, although the most recent – a Carabao Cup fourth-round tie in October – saw Robinson’s side prevail on penalties.

Also read: Sunderland's preparations for Oxford United clash helped by Newcastle United

It was one of Phil Parkinson’s first games in charge and he went on to come under severe pressure amid a poor run before Christmas.

But they have since gone from mid-table to within reach of the automatic promotion places, thanks to six wins since the turn of the year.

United have claimed just one league victory in 2020, but did strike late at Burton Albion to claim a point on Tuesday night.

Robinson said: “I think the goal on Tuesday will be a big confidence boost for us.

“The players know what’s expected moving forward.”