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Upward hopes players returning from injury will spice up competition for places and improve form

Ryan Upward hopes players returning from injury and suspension will spice up the competition for places in the Magpies squad and lead to them recovering their fine form from earlier in the season.

United began the season with three straight defeats, but responded in wonderful fashion, winning five matches on the spin to rocket up the league and they’ve been able to maintain their play-off challenge until recent weeks, when injuries, suspensions and postponements appear to have caught up with the squad. Midfielders Shaun Donnellan and Josh Smile have both been ruled out for the remainder of the campaign, Smile after recently suffering an ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) knee injury.

However, with the likes of Sam Barratt and Remy Clerima to return to the fold in the coming weeks, and with maybe a slight tweak to tactics and formation, Upward is confident the side can start climbing the table once again.

United are 14th in the table, with matches in hand on most of their rivals, ahead of Saturday’s trip to Solihull Moors and Tuesday’s visit to Dagenham & Redbridge.

United produced one of their best displays of the season to beat Moors 3-1 at York Road earlier this season, with Barratt bagging a hat-trick.

“We’re missing Sam (Barratt) at the moment,” said Upward. “He’s got a niggle and it’s been ongoing for a month now. We just need a few players coming back into the squad to spice things up a bit.

“We need people to fight for their spot. We had great competition but for the past few weeks it’s been Coms (James Comley), me and Rohan (Ince) as the three in midfield. Maybe something needs to change to balance the team.

“I know there have been mistakes you can’t account for but it’s become too easy for teams to break us down. We’re not defending right, but it’s not always the defence. We’ve got to defend from the front and maybe stop the balls coming over the top. We’re looking sharp in training so it’s just about putting what we’ve been working on into matches.”

Upward added that the side’s home form will also have to improve if they’re to stand any chance of fighting for a play-off spot. They’ve played 10 matches at York Road this season and have won only four of them.

“We’ve been better away from home to be fair,” said Upward. York Road used to be a fortress for us when we won the National League South, but something has been missing at York Road. If we can get a few results at home and get a little run going that will help.

“We need to win our matches in hand, that’s vital, and you can suffer the odd loss and still remain in and around the play-offs. All we’ve got to do is get back on another good run and we’ll be right up there.”

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