LIAM Manning believes the midfielders in his Oxford United squad have enough quality to negate the loss of Lewis Bate, who has effectively been ruled out for the season.

The Leeds United loanee underwent surgery on a hand injury yesterday, meaning Manning is unlikely to be able to call on Bate for the final nine games of the season.

Bate broke a bone in his hand during the 3-2 defeat at home to Derby County – a game Manning watched from the stands.

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The former MK Dons boss said: “He’d done quite well at times from the bits that I’d seen.

“He picked up the injury the week before we came in so I had a good idea when I joined that it’s something that was going to happen.

“Ultimately it’s disappointing to lose another body but at the same point that door closes, it opens an opportunity for somebody else.”

Bate’s absence means the U’s are short on options in the middle of the park, with James Henry, Billy Bodin and Alex Gorrin also unavailable due to injury.

It leaves United with Cameron Brannagan, Marcus McGuane and Oisin Smyth as the senior midfielders Manning can choose from.

Asked about the options available to him, Manning said: “It’s always a challenging one when you look at building teams and putting teams together.

“It’s making sure you get the right balance when you recruit but also when you pick a team.

“Getting the right balance of physicality, the right balance of technical, talented players, and of leaders.

“When you look at what we have got in, I think we have got physicality and some real quality.

“Cameron is probably one of the best passers of the ball in the league.

“With Marcus and Oisin, they’re two players that bring different qualities.

“Oisin definitely with his running power and his physicality then Marcus slightly more with his discipline and positionally in terms of playing a slightly more defensive role.

“They’re qualities and attributes we’re going to need between now and the end of the year so they’ll be bits we look at when it comes to selecting a team.”

Manning meanwhile is keen on keeping a close eye on 18-year-old Josh Johnson.

“JJ’s done really well to be fair, I’ve been really impressed with some of his qualities,” said Manning.

“He’s got a lot to do but at the same point, in terms of some of the attributes he’s got, he’s got really good potential.

“He’s got some really good quality and the more he can get up to speed with understanding what it takes to play in a senior team, being exposed to some of the players that are out there, and some of the feedback and support from the players and the staff, will only benefit him in terms of transitioning to the first team.

“He’s someone that will stay around the first team, he’s trained with us since we’ve been here and he’s one that needs to keep pushing to ultimately knock the door down to get in the team.”