LITTLE Oakley boss Sean Tynan believes the return to fitness of key, experienced players will be a major positive in the second half of the season.

Defensive linchpins Ben Hammond and Lewis Wood are now back and featured in the Acorns’ last Thurlow Nunn League match - their 1-1 draw at home to Norwich CBS on December 23.

Wood has been struggling with a hamstring injury since last term while Hammond has been sidelined with ankle ligament damage, sustained in the pre-season friendly against Brantham Athletic.

In addition, Jamie Dobkin is back in the frame after a knee operation while striker Jordan Heath has recovered from ankle ligament damage and will be looking to be among the goals in 2018.

“Lewis and Ben haven’t played together for seven or eight weeks and having them in the team certainly made us more solid (against Norwich),” said Tynan.

“We looked a completely different side and it made a massive difference, being able to field our two centre-halves from last year’s title-winning team.

“They’ve only played together four times this season and yet I could count on one hand the number of games they missed in the previous two. They’re massive players for us.

“They’re experienced and they’re the backbone of our side.

“We hope to keep them fit and be able to play them as much as possible between now and the end of the season.

“Jamie is the leader in our dressing room and he has been ever since I came to the club, five years ago.

“To have him back in the squad has given everyone a lift and has helped the players raise their game by ten per cent.

“Jordan is another who has come back and made a big difference.

“He’s turned down offers from other clubs - including one in the last fortnight - because he wants to stay at Oakley.

“He believes in what we’re doing here and wants to achieve things.”

Stephen Polley will hope to return next month, having been sidelined with a shoulder ligament problem, while Rory Harmon faces a spell on the sidelines as he is due to have a hernia operation in February.

“In the next few weeks, when these players are fully up to speed, we really hope to reap the rewards of having them back,” added Tynan.

“Hopefully then we can push on and move away from the bottom places in the league.

“I’m still hopeful of a mid-table finish and am very positive. It’s been a real learning curve this season, just as we knew it would be.

“We’ve had our ups and downs but we’ve stuck together. I still feel very positive.”

Oakley had no game last weekend.

They are due to return to action against AFC Sudbury Reserves at the Memorial Ground tomorrow (kick-off 3pm).

They visit Holland FC in the First Division Knockout Cup on Tuesday (7.45pm).

Meanwhile, the Oakley-Holland league match, postponed on December 27, has now been rearranged for January 23.