MICHAEL Duberry felt no ill-effects in his neck after making a first start of the season on Tuesday, but he hopes the performance left Oxford United manager Chris Wilder with a headache ahead of tomorrow’s FA Cup tie with Sheffield United.
The veteran defender had only played a handful of minutes as a substitute after missing almost the entire first half of the season recovering from neck surgery.
But with Michael Raynes ruled out with a virus, Duberry was handed a chance in the XI against Cheltenham Town on New Year’s Day.
Despite not starting a game for eight months, the 37-year-old played the full 90 minutes in a 1-0 win.
Duberry was delighted to come through the game unscathed.
He said: “It tested the little metal plate in my neck, there were lots of headers and I got whacked but I feel good.
“It was good that the centre forward was someone who was going to stand and battle, rather than last week (against Exeter) when we were up against someone like Jamie Cureton, who runs into the channels.”
It reunited Duberry and Jake Wright, who formed an excellent centre back partnership last season.
The pair were key to helping the U’s finish the campaign with the joint third-best defensive record in npower League Two with 48 goals conceded in their 46 games.
This campaign has seen United leak 38 goals already, but they have significantly tightened up in recent games with a Cureton penalty the only goal they have conceded in four games.
With the in-form Raynes likely to be available for the third-round clash with the Blades, Wilder has a dilemma over who plays alongside skipper Wright at centre half.
Duberry said: “Me and Jake worked well last year and complemented each other.
“We talked well to each other and Jake covered me a few times when I was blowing for air, but it’s good to be back playing and hopefully it’s something to work with.
“Now there’s a bit of competition, there’s three good defenders in a bit of form and hopefully it gives the gaffer a headache.”
It is a welcome problem for Wilder, who praised Duberry’s determination to fight his way back from the career-threatening injury.
He said: “Dubes’s career could have quite easily been over, but I’d like to pay credit to him and his desire not to finish like that and get back out on to the pitch.
“I think he was pretty shocked when he found out he was starting, but once we picked him up off the floor he got on with it.”