EARLIER this summer Gary Rowett admitted he was excited by the prospect of facing Sheffield United in the Capital One Cup.
Eight weeks, seven friendlies and a glut injuries later, the Burton Albion manager’s priorities have suddenly changed.
Although tomorrow’s visit to Sheffield United is likely to be a high point of their season, Rowett admitted emerging from the first-round tie without sustaining fresh casualties is now the League Two club’s number one concern.
“This match is important to us but we might have to mix up our selection a bit to protect a few of the players,” Rowett, speaking after watching winger Jimmy Phillips join the ranks of Albion’s walking wounded, confirmed.
“We’ve got to be mindful that the numbers are dropping and we can’t afford to push those who are on the verge of coming back too hard.”
Although the likes of Calvin Zola, Aaron Webster, Andy Corbett and Jacques Maghoma have also endured spells in the Pirelli Stadium’s congested treatment room recently, Billy Kee’s return to action means United must not under-estimate the threat Albion pose.
The Northern Ireland under-21 international, who attracted interest at Championship level last term, scored his first goal since December during a warm-up fixture against Walsall six days ago after recovering from a knee problem.
“I just want to play the first match of the season and then go from there,” Kee said.
“If I can get that one under my belt then I’ll be happy.
“Being out wrecks my head more than anything because playing football is what I live for and what I want to do every day.
“It’s been so frustrating.”
Together with Zola, Kee, who scored 12 goals in 20 appearances following a £20,000 transfer from Torquay, is part of a front line Rowett rates as possibly the best in the division.
“We are not, unless someone wants to offer a million pounds for one of our strikers, going to be in the market to sell,” Rowett said.
“We are not far off having the strongest attack at this level but I would still like to add to it.”
Neil Warnock, who masterminded United’s promotion to the Premier League in 2006, could come to the 38-year-old’s aid. Rowett revealed Warnock, a former Albion manager, had offered to “do his old club a favour” after returning for a warm-up fixture with present employers Leeds.
“I’d like to hope that we’ll have one or two new faces in before the weekend,” Rowett added.
“He’s spoken to me about one or two of their lads and we obviously had half an eye on the lads in question.”