SOUTHEND United manager Phil Brown is hopeful Stephen McLaughlin will still be able to figure against Bristol Rovers this weekend despite him suffering another injury setback.

McLaughlin, who last lined up for the Shrimpers in late December, had been expected to be line up for the under 21s at AFC Wimbledon this afternoon.

However, an injury in training forced the winger to pull out of the game but Blues boss Brown still believes the Irishman could be available for Saturday’s clash with the Pirates.

“We were all looking forward to Stephen playing in the game but he suffered a minor setback in training so the sensible decision was for him not to play,” said the Shrimpers chief.

“His foot has given way when landing during training but there’s no ligament damage which is good news.

“We’re not out of the woods just yet but he will be back sooner rather than later and I’m hoping he will be back training before the end of the week.

“If that happens then he will be in my thoughts for the Bristol Rovers game but we have to sensible about this.

“Stephen is a big player for us and was in the best form of his career before getting injured but we can’t afford to bring him back too soon.”

McLaughlin had netted six goals in 25 starts before suffering an ankle ligament injury in the 1-1 draw at home to Charlton on New Year’s Eve.

But the Irishman is now close to a return along with striker Nile Ranger who Brown thinks will be back in training before the end of the week.

“Nile has been making good progress on his groin injury and he should also be back out there on Thursday or Friday which would be good news,” said the 57-year-old.

“We will have to see how it goes but it would be great to have them back fit for the Bristol Rovers game.”

Blues will definitely have Ryan Inniss available again after he completed a one match suspension for the red card he received at Gillingham.

Inniss lined up for the under 21s at AFC Wimbledon but Brown, who was at the game, felt it was a tough afternoon for the Shrimpers.

“I thought it was a real test of character for the team we put out, especially the senior pros,” said Brown.

“It was a good game to see who could step up to the plate and who is pushing for a place in the first team but it was a tough day for them.”