BURTON Albion boss Gary Rowett believes club skipper John McGrath is close to recapturing his best form after a long battle to overcome a foot injury.
The 32-year-old Irishman has made three substitute appearances — most notably for the whole of the second half in the recent FA Cup second round win away to Crewe Alexandra — after an eight-month lay-off
The midfielder has also featured in two reserve team games and Rowett said: “Macca is definitely knocking on the door for a place in the starting line-up.”
The Brewers boss is firmly committed to the partnership of Lee Bell and Robbie Weir in McGrath’s favourite central midfield position.
However, the busy festive programme could see McGrath called up if either player suffers an injury.
Weir is also only two bookings away from his second suspension of the season after picking up his eighth yellow card of the campaign in Sunday’s 1-0 defeat of Accrington Stanley at the Pirelli Stadium.
Rowett said: “It’s great to have Macca back in the squad because he’s a player I hold in high esteem.
“He was injured in February and he was a massive loss to us at a time (during the relegation struggle) when we needed his experience and character.
“He’s got high energy and wants to get about the pitch making tackles, blocks and getting forward.
“I just think he’s a good player when he’s fully fit, but we knew he would miss a fair chunk of this season because the injury he had was a serious one.
“We’ve deliberately tried to ease him back because a foot injury pretty much dictates everything as far as playing football is concerned.
“I’m delighted that he’s now getting close to being his old self, which we saw when he came on at Crewe and put his experience to good use and played a big part in helping us to see the game out.”
McGrath is Albion’s third longest-serving player behind defenders Aaron Webster and Andy Corbett.
He was signed from Tamworth during the Nigel Clough era in 2007 and helped the Brewers to the Conference title.
The midfielder has made 229 appearances for the club and had turned out more times in the Football League than any other Albion player until an injury at Swindon Town in February left him requiring surgery.
Meanwhile, Rowett is disappointed midfield protege Matty Palmer has suffered an injury setback to his hopes of making his League Two debut in the near future.
The youngster made his first senior appearance as a late substitute in the FA Cup first round replay win at Altrincham last month and has continued to impress Rowett in training and reserve team games.
However, Palmer “tweaked” a groin in Tuesday’s Central League game against Oldham Athletic at St George’s Park and could be out of action for the next two weeks.
Rowett said: “It’s a pity Matty picked up the injury because I think he’s capable of coming into our side on occasions when we might vary our system (from 4-4-2).
“Technically, he’s one of the best passers of the ball at the club and he’s starting to get close to being involved.”