SOUTHEND United’s caretaker manager Gary Waddock is mulling over whether or not Tom Hopper is fit enough to feature in Saturday's crunch clash with AFC Wimbledon.

Hopper had been sidelined since October 2018 with a cruciate ligament injury before playing 45 minutes for Blues’ under-23 side against Maidstone United on Tuesday.

But Waddock is not sure if the striker is ready to return to first team action at this stage.

“I was pleased with Tom. He got 45 minutes but it’s his first game in a long time so we have to make sure we do everything right for him,” said Waddock.

“We will be having a conversation with him to see where he is and how he feels about what’s gone on over the past 11 or 12 months.

“It was a big barrier for him to overcome and early on he was a bit rusty like you would expect.

“But once he got his second wind you could see the quality he has and what he can bring to the team.”

However, Hopper’s long-term fitness remains Waddock’s primary concern.

“Sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture and protect the player,” said Waddock.

“As much as he wants to be involved it was his first action in a long time but no decision has been made yet.

“In terms of getting players back, 45 minutes isn’t really long enough in terms of putting someone back in for a very important fixture.

“The bigger picture is making sure he’s OK long-term.”

The Shrimpers will definitely again be without centre-back Liam Ridgewell (calf), midfielder Sam Mantom (hamstring), striker Charlie Kelman (ankle) and defender John White (broken arm).

Long-term absentees Sam Barratt (knee) and Harry Kyprianou (Achilles) are also still sidelined while captain Mark Milligan is away on international duty with Australia and will also miss tomorrow’s game.

Young striker Emile Acquah is suspended following his red card at Gillingham last weekend but left-back Nathan Ralph is available again after completing his one-match suspension.

And Waddock is also hopeful striker Brandon Goodship will be available after recovering from the illness which saw him miss out against Gillingham.