SKIPPER John McGrath returned to action for the first time in eight months as Burton Albion boss Gary Rowett received a triple fitness boost on Tuesday.
McGrath played 71 minutes of Albion reserves’ 2-1 Central League win at Shrewsbury Town — his first action since suffering a foot injury in a 2-0 defeat at Swindon Town at the end of February.
There was further good news for Rowett as both midfielder Chris Palmer and central defender Marcus Holness got through the 90 minutes at Greenhous Meadow as they made their own comebacks from injury.
Holness, signed in the summer from Rochdale, has not featured for the first-team since picking up a hamstring injury in the 3-1 home victory over York City on September 19.
Palmer, meanwhile, saw his return from an Achilles tendon injury picked up in the 1-0 victory at Rochdale on September 8 delayed by a calf problem.
Palmer and Holness will now be in contention to return to Albion’s first-team squad for the visit of Blue Square Bet North side Altrincham in the first round of the FA Cup on Sunday, but it was McGrath’s comeback after so long out which delighted Rowett the most.
The Brewers boss said: “It was really good to have the three of them back.
“We were looking to give Macca 60 minutes but one of the young lads had to come off and he ended up playing 70-odd, which was great.
“He took a bang on his knee in the first five minutes but, if anything, I thought he got stronger as the game wore on.
“He said he felt fine. I’m sure he will be aching as he will have used muscles that he has not used for a while, but there is no issue with the foot.
“He was delighted to be back and it was just nice to see him out on the pitch again after such a long time.”
However, the Brewers boss says 32-year-old McGrath will need a couple more reserve team games before he is considered for a return to first-team action.
“It was Macca’s first game and we won’t be silly enough to think that after eight months out he will be back in the first-team fold, but it was a huge step for him,” said Rowett.
“He needs one or two more games, but I am really pleased for him.
“He will get back to training now and we will look to give him another reserve game.
“I think there is one the week after next so we may try and arrange something for next week and try and get him 80 or 90 minutes.
“We have got to be careful and not go silly as he is still not miving as well as he can.
“All credit to out physio, James (Rowland), who has done a lot of work with Macca in particular.”
Palmer and Holness are more likely to be considered for an immediate return to first-team duty, with Rowett saying: “I thought Marcus looked particularly strong, while Palms did well also.
“It is nice to have the two of them back available. Whether they are thrown straight back in is another matter.
“Like every other fit player, they are available and we will assess it as the week progresses.”
BURTON Albion under-18s sealed their place into the second round of the FA Youth Cup with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Kidderminster Harriers at the Pirelli Stadium.
They had to come from behind, with second-half goals from Billy Bennett and Marcus Harness cancelling out Shaq Reid’s opener for Kidderminster.
The Brewers will be at home to Bottesford Town in the next round.
ALBION’S next three reserve team home fixtures - against Morecambe on November 13, Oldham Athletic on December 11 and Mansfield Town on December 19 - will be played behind closed doors at St George’s Park.