GRAHAM Alexander admitted he was a bit vague about Vadaine Oliver’s situation at the start of the week.

Forty minutes and a goal later and the City boss has got a clearer picture with his returning striker.

Oliver took a significant step on the long road to recovery from knee and groin injuries with his run-out against Liverpool under-21s. Scoring in the 4-0 romp in the Bristol Street Motors Trophy was a nice bonus.

For his manager, there were signs that the big man is ready to play his part on the League Two battlefield.

“We’re all a little bit unsure of where he actually should be,” was Alexander’s response when last questioned about Oliver’s fitness level after such a lengthy spell out of action.

After last night’s game, the manager struck a more confident note – while still understandably urging some caution.

“Forty minutes is a little bit different to 95,” he replied to the prospect of pitching Oliver in from the off. “He’s still a little bit away from full fitness but having him in the squad is great for everyone.

“He played 20 last time, 40 last night and I’m sure we can up it again. Even start a game? I think he could do that.

“He’s been out for a long time and, from my side, I’m learning about all the individuals. But it’s great to have that competition.”

Oliver’s first taste of football this season, in the previous Trophy game against Barnsley, was described by Alexander as a “replacement for a training day”.

“I had to spend a bit of time convincing him to play for 20 minutes.

“That was ahead of his potential schedule. A game wasn’t put in the plan for him.

“It was a full training week but I knew we wouldn’t be able to do that properly because of the midweek game. It was more beneficial to try and get him involved in that.

“So we looked to get him 20 minutes in a game as a continuation of the training programme. It’s about getting him up to speed accordingly.

“In the meantime, whoever’s on the bench, everyone is available for me to make hopefully the right decisions to win a game of football.

“These games are too important to use too loosely as in just getting players prepared. We have to win games and that’s the balance I try to make.”

Why Oliver did not come on against Forest Green

Oliver has had to be patient since that return against the Tykes last month. He was an unused sub in the last two league games.

Alexander said: “We were 5-0 up when he came on against Barnsley, so the game was in our hands. It was a good time to get him on.

“The Accrington game was very tight. Even at Forest Green, it was like that.”

His decision not to bring on Oliver for Andy Cook at the New Lawn last week appeared surprising at the time with City 2-0 up. Alexander instead opted to summon Emmanuel Osadebe.

“We just needed to load up the midfield a little bit more with how they were planning,” he explained. “I thought Manny was the best option for that.

“It was a tactical decision, nothing more. I think Vadaine would have been perfectly prepared physically to go on - and if we’d needed a goal, it probably would have been him.

“We just needed to make sure we didn’t concede at that time and give ourselves a risky 10 minutes when you’re only 2-1 in front.

“It’s important when we’ve got a team in the corner that we maintain that control and distance between us.

“He would have been fine to play but I just felt Manny was the better option in that particular spot.

“It’s a long comeback for Vadaine, there are still a load of games to play this season.

“I just see value in every single player that they can always help us to win a game.

“But there are going to be different players for different moments. That’s how you create a squad at the start of the season because you want a lot of options.”