JACK Payne remains a key part of City’s survival plans, Gary Bowyer has stressed.

Payne was a 78th-minute sub at Oxford, his first involvement since Bowyer took charge after two games unused on the bench.

Having scored nine goals with seven assists, the absence of the playmaker so far under the new manager has raised eyebrows among fans.

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But Bowyer has reiterated that Payne is very much in his thinking – and the only reason he did not feature more at the Kassam Stadium was because of a throat infection last week.

Bowyer said: “Jack was sent home on Thursday because of it and didn’t train.

“He did a little bit on Friday but we had to make sure we didn’t make too many demands on him when he wasn’t very well.

“But hopefully now that’s him done and he’s totally recovered because he will be an important player for us between now and the end of the season.”

Bowyer opted to start Jermaine Anderson over Payne in his opening game against Peterborough because he wanted more height in the team.

He stuck with the former Posh midfielder to face Luton and Payne’s absence from the Oxford preparations ruled out any change at the weekend.

The City boss added: “We made the change initially against Peterborough and it worked for us.

“You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t in terms of changing a winning team against Luton.

“And then unfortunately Jack was ill during the week in the build-up to Oxford.

“He’ll have a good week now and will obviously come into contention for Saturday.”

Payne has started 38 games in all competitions and only Eoin Doyle has scored more goals. But having been such a key player during City’s mid-season revival, the Huddersfield loanee’s form has dipped since January.

Bowyer will be hoping that a spell out the side can reinvigorate the number 10 as City desperately chase a string of wins over the final eight games to stay up.

“Whenever anybody misses out who’s played a lot of football, at certain points it’s not a bad thing because they can have a breather,” he said.

“I’m sure Jack will come back refreshed and ready to go to the end of the season.

“That’s one way of looking at it for him as well. The illness just allowed him to recharge his batteries and now he’s ready again.”