ZELI Ismail is expected to return to the Burton Albion bench against Chesterfield tomorrow, kick-off 3pm – and Gary Rowett is delighted to see the return of his on-loan match-winner.
The 20-year-old Wolves starlet tore his hamstring in the 1-1 draw with AFC Wimbledon on March 15.
His loss was a massive blow as the Brewers stuttered and ultimately missed out on automatic promotion.
But Ismail is back and, without heaping too much pressure on the youngster, Rowett is over the moon ahead of the play-offs, for which Albion qualified with Easter Monday’s 1-1 draw at Newport County.
“Zeli’s return and availability for the play-offs is huge for us, without wanting to put too much pressure on him,” said the manager.
“But at the same time he’s a broad shouldered lad who can handle it.”
Ismail was a revelation when he arrived at the Pirelli Stadium in January.
He lived up to Rowett’s billing as an exciting player who got people on their feet, showing the kind of pace and directness the Brewers were missing.
In his 13 games before injury struck, he hit three goals and set up plenty more for his team-mates.
His return is timely after Jimmy Phillips was ruled out for three months with torn knee ligaments.
Shane Cansdell-Sherriff is also a massive doubt for the play-offs with an Achilles injury, while Damien McCrory is out until pre-season after a knee operation.
“We would have to say Zeli this season has been the best player to change games with an individual piece of brilliance,” said Rowett.
“Three goals and the assists he got in 10 games are testament to that.
“He was due to come back last week after training for a week with Wolves.
“But he had a tight hip flexor which ruled that out.
“We had hoped to have him available for Hartlepool but he couldn’t come at the last minute with the slight injury he had got.
“It wasn’t worth risking him at that stage.”
Ismail joined in with training at St George’s Park on Friday and is likely to be on the bench tomorrow as Albion look to give Chesterfield a scare as the Derbyshire side look to seal a place in the top three.
“He trained yesterday with a view to playing against Chesterfield, probably as a substitute,” said the manager.
“Certainly he will be involved in some way.
“Then he will have two weeks’ training ahead of the play-offs.”
ROY McFarland will be selling - and signing - copies of his autobiography at the Pirelli Stadium tomorrow.
He will be in the hospitality area before kick-off, in the Tom Bradbury Lounge at half-time and in the main reception at full-time for fans on the terraces who wish to see the Derby County legend and ex-Albion and Chesterfield boss.