CITY are getting three players in one with Alex Gilliead’s return, according to Mark Hughes.

Gilliead is poised for his first action at Barrow tomorrow after recovering from a calf strain that put him back in pre-season.

Hughes has no qualms about throwing him straight back into the squad and welcomed the options the versatile midfielder can offer.

Gilliead re-joined City from Scunthorpe 14 months ago predominantly as a winger but has also played down the middle and in a deeper-lying midfield role.

He featured 43 times in the league last season - only former skipper Paudie O'Connor played more.

Hughes said: “I think he’s a great player to have in the building. That versatility is invaluable and his fitness levels allow him to be effective in whatever role you ask him to do.

“He’s someone who will affect the game in a positive manner. That’s credit to him and his ability and fitness and his understanding of the game.

“Every position in the team requires different elements in your play but he’s an intelligent footballer who is able to take that on board.

“He understands what’s required if he’s played in a different position from one week to the next.”

Gilliead’s pre-season game time was limited to just 45 minutes in the opening friendly at Bradford (Park Avenue) before suffering the injury. But his return is timely with Emmanuel Osadebe beginning his long absence recovering from a broken leg and Kian Harratt also suspended.

“Gilly’s obviously a little bit frustrated that he had to miss out on a number of weeks in pre-season because he was absolutely flying,” added Hughes.

“He got the injury in Spain and was really unfortunate. Up to that point he was ahead of everything in terms of what he was doing.

“It’s good to get him back, having him as an option gives me more variation and flexibility in what I do before, during and after games.

“Whether I start Gilly or he comes on or he starts the game and I change his position while he plays -it’s a really good option when you’ve got a player of that ilk.

“He’s one of the senior players, he’s got a good voice within the group.

“He’s well respected for his presence and his ability.

“I think he’s one of those who will back his own ability to be one of the main players in the team. I would imagine that’s the way he’s thinking this season will pan out.”