ZAK Dearnley is capable of being a big player for Oldham Athletic, according to manager Keith Curle.

But the Latics boss knows he will not see the best of the young striker until he has had a full pre-season under his belt.

The 22-year-old was showing glimpses of what he was capable of earlier this season when he went on a four-game scoring streak.

However, the former Manchester United youngster's progress has been curtailed by injuries in November and then a further three-month lay-off from January.

But Curle has seen enough in training and Dearnley's comeback game at Mansfield, where he scored a consolation in Saturday's 4-1 defeat, to be sure that a fully-fit Dearnley can star for Latics in the future, providing he puts in the fitness work that he needs over the summer to get back up to speed.

"Zak had four days' full training (before Mansfield) but we know time's running out. I was desperate to have a look at him to give him some minutes," said Curle.

"He is miles off where he needs to be, miles off where he wants to be himself, but the important thing was he got minutes into him, and scored a goal, which is a plus.

"You can see Zak's got the makings of a centre forward that will score goals but he's miles off where he wants to be and where we need him to be as well. That's an honest reflection.

"He's got potential because he will score goals.

"But you can tell there are still more yards to come from Zak, there's a lot of hard work that Zak's got to put in to get near where he wants to be.

"Zak knows he's on a journey. He's got six or seven weeks now where he's got some hard yards, he's got to put himself back to where he wants to be, or where he sees himself.

Dearnley's comeback coincided with fellow forward Marcus Barnes' first start since signing from Southampton in January, having also recovered from injury.

"Every team needs goalscorers, every team needs willing runners," Curle continued.

"During the game I'm probably watching Zak and Marcus more than some of the other players because I've got a good understanding of where some of the other players are at and I'm needing to see from Zak and Marcus what they're about.

"I was pleased to get them game time."