Cliff Byrne deserves great reception when Scunthorpe United host Oldham Athletic
WINGER Mark Duffy is expected to return to the starting line-up this afternoon as Scunthorpe United begin a potentially season-defining month.
Today's clash with Oldham Athletic is the first of five matches against sides in and around the relegation zone to start 2013.
After entertaining the Latics, United host Shrewsbury Town on Saturday. They also travel to Colchester United and Carlisle United and have another home game with cash-strapped Portsmouth.
Manager Brian Laws acknowledges that January promises to be 'huge' in his side's attempts to climb out of the bottom four.
“You can call it whatever you like," said the Iron boss, when asked if it was too early to class today's game with the Latics as a six-pointer.
“These games are important to us. We know this month is huge and we need to make sure we’re very focused to try to maximise everything we can.
“We’ve got a couple of home games coming up and we’ve got to start winning our home games.
“That’s going to be the difference between us staying in this division and not.
“If we can improve our home form, we’ve got a fantastic opportunity.
“January is a massive month. We’re playing teams in and around us in the table and they are games we have got to win.
“That will be the difference for us this year. We can get right out of it during the month of January."
Duffy missed Saturday's 1-0 defeat at Tranmere Rovers with a knee injury picked up during the closing stages of the Boxing Day game at Sheffield United.
He went for a scan on the problem, but it came back all clear and the former Morecambe winger was back in training yesterday.
Scunthorpe hope they are over the worst of an illness bug which forced them to name a makeshift starting XI at Prenton Park.
Laws though says Jimmy Ryan and Christian Ribeiro, two players forced to sit out the Tranmere game, face a late fitness test this lunchtime to determine whether they are fit enough to feature.
The Iron boss is looking forward to welcoming former club captain Cliff Byrne back to Glanford Park for the first time.
Byrne was released by ex-manager Alan Knill in the summer, nine years after being brought in by Laws from Sunderland.
He says the Irishman deserves a great reception - something he is almost certain to get from fans, who turned out in force for the defender's Benefit Game in July.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Cliff," said Laws.
“There’s no question about what he’s given to this football club.
“I’m sure supporters will give credit where it’s due, but hopefully we get a result and make Oldham suffer.
“It won’t be an easy game – they’re all tough. But if we show the same kind of spirit we did at Tranmere and add to it with a little bit of quality in the last third, we’ll do all right."
Striker Karl Hawley has verbally agreed a contract to remain with Scunthorpe until the end of the season, but is not expected to put pen to paper on the deal until the weekend.