GARY Bowyer wants to protect Lewis O’Brien from running out of steam in City’s tense run-in.

The young midfielder ended a run of 30 successive league starts when he was dropped to the bench at Oxford.

O’Brien still came on to have City’s big scoring chance during the controversial finish which led to their last-gasp loss.

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But Bowyer is wary of demanding too much from the on-loan Huddersfield youngster in his breakthrough year of first-team football. He took a similar approach as Blackpool boss with Newcastle loanee Sean Longstaff last season.

He said: “Lewis’s energy levels are incredible. How he was on the Saturday and then again on the Tuesday, we just thought we’d try and bring in Billy Clarke’s experience and just freshen it up.

“I’m sure it will be more than beneficial for Lewis having that little breather. It’s his first year of senior football.

“I did it with Sean Longstaff before. He had a wonderful spell for the team but I said all along that there would be times when I’d give him a little breather.

“You don’t want to push them beyond the point where you are causing injury or fatigue. You have to be careful until they get used to the robustness of playing Football League.”

O’Brien, Huddersfield’s current academy player of the year, has been a revelation in City’s increasingly troubled campaign.

He made his debut as a sub at Saturday’s opponents Blackpool in September in David Hopkin’s first game in charge.

The Scot then started him the following week against Charlton and O’Brien has been a regular in the side since.

Bowyer added: “He has done brilliantly when you consider everything that has gone on around him in his first season. This is his third manager – and he’s been great with it all.”

O’Brien still maintains he never made contact from City’s glorious scoring opportunity last weekend – which led on to Oxford going straight up the other end to strike.

“It depends on who you speak to,” admitted Bowyer. “Lewis says it was a corner, somebody else would say it was a great piece of defending, somebody will tell you it was a great piece of defending to put the ball on to Lewis and out of play.

“Lewis can’t remember getting a touch on it. But it’s just one of them and you’ll do very well to see that in football again.

“But that’s it now. We can’t change it and we’ve got to look forward to Saturday.

“Our debrief on Monday was focused on what we could do better ourselves. We didn’t refer to the referee.

“We’ve got to concentrate on what we can control, the energy levels, training and continuing on to the next game.

“We need to create more. We had two or three good passages of play – and then the key moment which is what we hung in the game for.

“That’s how quickly things can change – and it can change back just as quickly. That’s what we’ve been telling the boys.”