IAN Evatt claims he will be asking players who are not ready to play at Rotherham to lace up their boots on Saturday.

Wanderers’ camp has been devastated by Covid since mid-December, with more than 20 cases reported since the EFL upgraded their protocols to ‘red level’ in the light of the Omicron variant.

Three successive games have been cancelled but Evatt says the league rules which state clubs cannot postpone a fixture if they have 14 fit players, including a goalkeeper, do not take into consideration the after-effects of the virus.

As such, some of the names on the Wanderers team-sheet will be players still suffering from respiratory problems, or those only recently returning from long-term injury.

Saturday's opponents Rotherham have suffered Covid issues in the past but are currently reporting a clean bill of health.

Suffice it to say, Evatt feels his team is at a disadvantage.

“It comes down to a problem in football which will always be there,” he said. “It was a problem during lockdown – everyone goes into self-preservation mode, that’s what happens. They look after number one.

“We have clubs coming out and saying we don’t have any cases, we’ll good for you. Lucky for you. We haven’t had that fortune.

“We are being penalised to play fixtures when we are not ready to play, and in my opinion that is not right. It is not in the spirit of the competition.

“We will do the best with the numbers and players we have got available but my responsibility as the manager of this football club is one, results, but two, and the most important one, is the welfare of my players and that includes people getting injured when they are not ready to play.”

Burnley boss Sean Dyche said recently that calls for a return to five substitutions to help cope with fixture congestion and Covid cancellations are weighted heavily in favour of the ‘big clubs’.

Player welfare has been a hot topic in the Premier League – but Evatt claims the current Covid problems are affecting clubs at every level of the game.

“Sean, who is a manager I have a lot of respect for, came out and said these footballers have everything – the chefs, the dieticians. But when you have had the virus, your lungs don’t understand you have a chef or a nutritionist,” he said.

“You have to be able to breathe to exercise and play football. I think that is the point we’re making – are these players fit enough to return from illness and not pick up injury?

“When you are playing consistently over the Christmas period, Boxing Day, the 29th, the 1st and the 4th, that amount of games when you have a limited squad due to Covid, there is a high risk of injury.”