ON the eve of the penultimate game of the season, Keith Curle delivered the message that Latics fans have been waiting to hear: Zak is back!

The forward had hit the ground running in his first full season at Boundary Park, having arrived from Manchester United in January 2020.

Dearnley's first goal of the season was a last-minute winner at Bolton in October and it sparked a four-game scoring streak.

But after a brief spell out following an early injury at home to Cheltenham in November, the 22-year-old faced a further, longer term spell on the sidelines having come off the bench as a half-time substitute against tomorrow's opponents, Mansfield, only to limp off less than 20 minutes later.

But Dearnley is on course to make his long-awaited comeback against the Stags tomorrow.

"Zak's been desperate to get back on the pitch," said Curle, who revealed how hard the youngster has been working behind the scenes to play some part before the season ends.

"We sent him to St George's Park to top him up on his field based rehab. Sometimes a change of environment, a different voice (helps) and when he's come back his data from the physical work was very good.

"The important thing is when players have been out a long time you don't want them to come back and then break down going into the summer, so we've made sure that he's ticked all the boxes required for strengthening and conditioning and his return to training protocol.

"We're pleased for Zak to be back and available."

Curle added: "When any manager or coach walks into a football club you want everybody available so you can make your assessment as early as possible.

"I've looked at some of the games that Zak played in.

"When you walk into the football club and you haven't got a recognised centre forward available and then they're coming back in dribs and drabs... I'm desperate to get him on the pitch and give me the opportunity to show me what he's about."