It will be 15 days between fixtures when United take to the field to face Rochdale on Boxing Day [kick off 1pm], with last weekend’s scheduled home meeting with Bradford having been postponed when the visitors reported Covid-19 related issues two days ahead of the game.
One slight advantage to come out of the situation has been added time for injured duo Zach Clough and Joe Riley, who have both now edged a little bit further along the road to recovery.
Speaking at his festive press conference, manager Keith Millen said: “Zach is doing some work but the progress is slower than we hoped, so he won’t be involved on Boxing Day.
“Joe is very close now. He’s been able to do a lot of running, but without contact yet. He’s done lots of work, so he’s fit, we’re just waiting for the all-clear in terms of him being able to fully join in with contact training.
“He’s touch and go for Boxing Day. Physically he’s ok, it’s just from a medical point of view whether he’s able to be involved. Everyone else, at the moment, is ok.”
And on not having had the fixture last weekend, we wondered if that had provided any other positive outcomes.
“Not really, no,” he told us. “I was really disappointed that we didn’t play Bradford because we were off the back of a win and feeling good.
“When you get that momentum you want to continue it, don’t you, so it was a blow for us to lose that game. I felt we were in a really good place going into it, but there’s nothing you can do.
“It has allowed us to do a little bit more training with the lads than we would have done. That is an advantage, but we’ve had a good week this week and now it’s a case of protecting the players, not just physically, but from the Covid issues as we try to keep them all healthy, fit and available.”
Seven of the League Two Boxing Day games have already been lost to the pandemic, with teams reporting positive tests and the self-isolation that comes from those who have had close contact with the affected players and staff.
“We haven’t really been affected yet, but we’re being really strict and testing every day,” the manager explained. “We’re following all of the EFL protocols and we’ve split the dressing rooms to minimise the numbers in close areas.
“At the moment we’re ok. I think the problem is that when a team has to call a game off you’ve got the seven or ten-day rule which kicks in, which means it isn’t just impacting one game.
“Certainly with the fixtures we’ve got coming up now, we’ve only got a couple of days between each game, so I think that is going to be an issue over the next ten days. You might find teams have to lose two or three games.”
With the high number of games that have been postponed already during this battle against the Omicron variant, it has brought a number of differing opinions on what should happen, from a return to games behind closed doors to a temporary circuit breaker being applied and the game shutting down for a short period of time.
“I think there’s an argument for that,” he commented. “I don’t know about three weeks but, I think you could cancel the Christmas and New Year games.
“I think you could extend the season in the EFL, which would mean we’ll finish later when the weather is better and everything is hopefully under control again.
“I know there’s another argument that Boxing Day and New Year’s Day are big events, and they’re traditional football days, so people look forward to those games.
“I totally understand that, but I think the crowds will be less over this period compared to what you would expect with more people being cautious.
“The idea of maybe missing ten days is manageable, probably not in the Premier League but certainly in the EFL I think we’ve got scope to extend the season.”
“That’s just my opinion really,” he continued. “You hope every club does it by the rules, but you might find that one team misses a game, but if we play on Boxing Day then we’ve got to play a team two days later who hasn’t had that extra game.
“It might be an advantage to some teams because they might only play two games out of the four over this busy period. There are so many ifs and buts.
“In a way you want to continue playing, especially when you’re in a good place like we are. We just want to keep playing games, I definitely don’t want our games cancelled.
“You also don’t want to be playing a team who have maybe had a rest, so it’s very difficult for everyone.
“We just have to concentrate on the next game until we’re told anything different, which is what I’ve been saying to the players.”