CALLUM Whelan is relishing the prospect of strength in numbers as Latics' extensive injury list shows signs of easing.

On more than one occasion this season the list of Oldham's absentees has stretched into double figures, most recently with 10 unavailable for selection for the last League Two game, at home to Swindon Town.

A 3-1 defeat was a setback to the progress they had made defensively with five clean sheets in their seven previous League Two games.

But midfielder Whelan is confident they can back to running a tighter ship as competition for places prepares to hot up, thanks to a number of experienced players on the verge of a comeback from lengthy absences, with Nicky Adams leading the way having returned to the squad for last weekend's FA Cup first round tie at Ipswich Town.

"They have had long injuries so we're buzzing to see them back," said Whelan, with Ouss Cisse, Sam Hart and Kyle Jameson well on the road to recovery.

"It can only help us, extra numbers, more experienced players as well and some key players coming back so that can only help our cause in the next few games."

And ahead of league action resuming with Saturday's trip to Exeter City, Whelan is hoping the hard yards in training with pay dividends too as Latics look to move away from the relegation zone.

"After the start we had it's baby steps, it's working hard every day and if you take (Swindon) out of it we've had some good results, clean sheets, which is improvement and a step in the right direction," he said.

"The only thing for us now is there can't be too many games like (Swindon) that creep in and get in the way of us moving forward, so if we limit performances like that we're on the right tracks and we'll be ok.

"Spirits have to be good, everyone has to work hard, and the beauty of football is you always get another game.

"When we're (in training) we have to work hard, and if you want to improve you might as well do it with a smile on your face and enjoy the hard work every day."

And while Whelan knows it is a collective effort, he hopes the individual work he is doing will make a difference.

"When I'm picked to play in the team my role (when we are) in possession is to get on the ball and to keep us playing, but I spoke to the manager about how I can maximise how effective I am off the ball, tackling, heading, competing," said the 23-year-old Manchester United Academy graduate.

"We've had conversations and I'm working hard in the gym and I'm trying to get that good mentality of how effective I can be at the other side.

"You probably wouldn't say it's my main attribute but I have to do it, any player has to do it, we have to work hard off the ball and that's it, it's a given."

He added: "In football there can be tactics, patterns of play, whatever you want, but if there's not 11 players working to keep the ball out of your own net then it's pointless really. You have to work hard, you have to win the battle first and that's something we've really been working on and obviously the clean sheets show that and now we have to keep going and keep working harder and see how good we can get at defending as a team."