MIDFIELD options for Oxford United are thinning out week by week, something that will be of increasing concern to Liam Manning.

The new head coach exudes calmness on and off the pitch, and while on the surface he is relatively relaxed about Lewis Bate’s season-ending hand surgery, underneath it will surely be a worry.

Already without experienced charges in James Henry, Billy Bodin and Alex Gorrin, Manning must also deal with the loss of Bate, arguably United’s most regular performer in the middle of the park this year.

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Controlling the midfield is at the core of Manning’s football philosophy, but the former MK Dons boss now has only Cameron Brannagan, Marcus McGuane and Oisin Smyth as his senior midfielders.

Aside from that trio, only 18-year-old Josh Johnson is likely to be called upon.

A lot of focus will now be on Brannagan to show why he is the club’s talisman.

United’s No 8 will be the first to admit his form has dipped in recent months but he is a player capable of the sublime.

The most realistic options around him are McGuane and Smyth, who has only just broken into the first team himself.

Those three must start delivering consistently in a yellow shirt as ultimately they are the only ones available.