ANDY Whing made a long-awaited return for Oxford United this week and declared – the season starts now.

Injuries have deprived the U’s of several key players so far in this campaign, with the 28-year-old one of the biggest losses.

A groin injury has kept the former Coventry and Brighton man on the sidelines since July, but he made a surprise return to the first team in midweek.

Whing came off the bench to play the final 30 minutes in United’s 4-2 win at Cheltenham Town in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

“Obviously it’s been very frustrating in the first ten or 11 games, but definitely the season started for me on Tuesday,” he said.

“I was buzzing to get back involved in and around the squad and delighted to get half an hour under my belt as well.

“It probably forced the gaffer’s hand a little bit with the injuries we’ve had.

“I only found I was on the bench on the lunchtime before the game – I was supposed to be running with (strength and conditioning coach) Alasdair Lane to be fair, so at least it got me out of that.”

Whing featured in all but five league games last season and his return is a major boost, with his ability to play at centre back, right back and central midfield.

U’s boss Chris Wilder said: “I asked Andy before the game if he could do half an hour for us if pushed.

“He said ‘no problem’, and that’s brilliant from my point of view because he’s a big player for us.”

Peter Leven and Harry Worley, who have struggled with injuries so far, played 90 minutes at Cheltenham to help ease United’s fitness concerns.

Whing came through the test without any problems and will be involved at Port Vale on Monday.

He said: “It felt really good to come on, so at least it gave me a bit of confidence and I hope to kick on now.

“I’m not too sure if I could have done a bit more, but I definitely don’t want to risk anything at the minute.

“I’ll step up my training over the next few days and we’ll see what happens next week.

“It was nice to see Lev and H (Worley) get a good 90 minutes under their belts and they’ll come a lot better out of that.

“It’s good to get the lads back, there’s still a massive list – when you look at the board in the physio room and see all the names it’s unbelievable, but the lads out there were fantastic.”