OXFORD United were last night forced to resolve a goalkeeping crisis just hours before their biggest match of the season.
The U’s acted quickly to sign England Under 19 stopper Connor Ripley on an emergency loan after Wayne Brown twisted his knee.
With first-choice Ryan Clarke already ruled out for up to a month with an abdominal muscle injury, No 2 keeper Brown had played in United’s previous two games.
But his injury, picked up in training, meant that the U’s had only youth team keeper Max Crocombe available for today’s crunch npower League Two clash against Southend, so boss Chris Wilder acted swifly to secure the signing of Ripley from Middlesbrough.
Son of former England winger Stuart, the 19-year-old has made two appearances in the Championship and will start today, in a match where anything other than a victory for the U’s could see their play-off hopes dashed with a game still to play.
However, if results go for them, three points would carry Oxford back into the all-important top seven ahead of the trip to Port Vale next weekend.
A big crowd is expected, desperate for the U’s to end a run of five games without a win – something Wilder is optimistic about.
He said: “I do believe we have a decent record in big games and when the time has come for us to produce a big performance, we’ve done it.
“We need to go and do it, we all understand that.
“If we can recreate some of the magical days and nights from the last three or four years at the Kassam then hopefully that’ll give us an extra push to get over the winning line.”
Selection will be critical and there are several options for the United boss to consider.
Damian Batt and Peter Leven are expected to shrug off injuries, but James Constable and Jon-Paul Pittman are doubts.
Wilder admitted the importance of the game meant considering gambling on players’ fitness, within reason.
He said: “It’s a time now where we can afford to take a few risks, but I can’t afford to be bringing players off after ten minutes, so we have to make a calculated judgement.”
Southend, who have already beaten United twice this season, arrive with the league’s best away record and still with a slim chance of automatic promotion.
Oxford Utd: from Ripley, Batt, Duberry, Wright, Davis, Chapman, Leven, Hall, Johnson, Rendell, Montano, Crocombe, Whing, Morgan, Pittman, Capaldi, Constable, Wilson, Tonkin. Southend Utd: from Belford, Clohessy, Phillips, Barker, Gilbert, Mohsni, Grant, Timlin, Hall, Harris, Eastwood, Ferdinand, Martin, Crawford, Prosser, Sawyer, Hills.