St Mirren keeper Jak Alnwick warns Covid-19 rules are putting players at risk and urges the SPFL to review them

ST MIRREN goalkeeper Jak Alnwick has urged the SPFL to review their emergency Covid-19 rules during the winter shutdown and warned them the current protocols are putting players at risk of injury.

Alnwick returned to action in the cinch Premiership match against his former club Rangers at Ibrox on Boxing Day after missing the midweek match with Celtic at the SMiSA Stadium because of a coronavirus outbreak in the Paisley outfit’s squad.

The Englishman was unable to help the visitors, who had held their Parkhead rivals to a 0-0 draw on Wednesday night despite being without a raft of first team regulars, complete an Old Firm double by getting a result.

First-half goals from Scott Wright and Alfredo Morelos ensured the Scottish champions triumphed 2-0 and restored their six point lead over their city rivals at the top of the league table.

However, Alnwick was still impressed with how his team mates performed at the end of what was one of the most challenging weeks he has experienced in his football career.

“It’s obviously been really tough,” he said. “There has been a lot going on as everyone can see from the outside. It shows how good a group we’ve got that young lads stepped up against Celtic and then against Rangers lads who hadn’t trained in two weeks, myself included, played.

“I probably only trained one or two days since the Hibs game (on December 11). It’s been tough. We’ve not been able to do analysis, we’ve not been able to do anything really.

“For the lads to put in two big shifts against the two best sides in the league, and to come out with one point and not get totally embarrassed or anything like that is a credit to them and how they’ve looked after themselves. Everyone seems to be healthy enough which is the main thing.”

The SPFL introduced new rules at the start of this season that stipulated that if a club has 13 fit players then they must – provided 10 of them are over 18 and one of them is a goalkeeper – fulfil a fixture.

They issued a statement yesterday stressing their members had been consulted and pointing out that any change now could threaten their ability to finish the season.

Alnwick, though, believes the current guidelines are jeopardising the safety of players and would like to see them amended before the top flight resumes on January 17.

St Mirren had two bids to have their meetings with Celtic and Rangers postponed rejected last week after being allowed to recall youngsters from their loan spells with Lowland League sides.

“We were going into the game with 13 players and three of them were goalkeepers,” said Alnwick. “That’s with Josh Jack, who has not played in a year, Dylan Reid, who’s 16-years-old, and young Jay Henderson, who’s not been in the squads this season.

“It just doesn’t seem right. Obviously if the rules are the rules and they are the same for everybody that’s fine. But I think there has to be circumstances when you have to look at it.

“We didn’t have a sub to get on the pitch. We managed to get four lads back from loans just in time and stuff like that who we didn’t even know. It’s a little bit hard to take. I think that’s what drove us through these two games, knowing that the game should probably have been off, the first one. It’s difficult.

“I’m not here to make the rules, but hopefully they can have a think about it over the next three weeks and come up with a plan.

“Dundee had 13 players and three goalkeepers (against Aberdeen at Pittodrie on Sunday). I don’t care what team it is, whether I don’t like the team or love the team, it’s not nice asking young lads to come in and do this sort of thing and putting players at injury risk.”

He added: “There were lads running on empty on Boxing Day and just happy to get through the game on adrenaline really. It’s not great for injuries and stuff like that. I think one of the pluses to take out is there are no injuries from Sunday. It was two hard games in a week.

“The gaffer had to change it on Boxing Day. He couldn’t ask young Dylan Reid, a 16-year-old, to play two games in a week. We’ve got to look after young players more.

“It’s a credit to every single one that has been involved in the last two games that they have really stuck to their task. We tried to frustrate them as much as we could. We wanted to give it a go, but, sadly, the numbers we’ve got and the lack of game time, lack of training time, made it really difficult.

“Fair play to the lads in front of me, they dug in really deep. I could see a few of them gritting their teeth and just trying to get through what they could. Brilliant.”

Alnwick is hopeful that having the winter break brought forward – a decision made by the SPFL last week after the Scottish government capped crowds at outdoor events at 500 for a three week period – will allow St Mirren’s players to regain full fitness.

“Everyone has a different opinion on the winter break coming early,” he said. “It’s a tough one. Everyone is going to have an opinion based on their squad. I saw Greegsy (Rangers keeper Allan McGregor) saying he thought it should have stayed as it was.

“As a footballer, I would love to keep playing games back-to-back without any break whatsoever and then have a break at the end of the season. I’ve been used to it down in England. League One is relentless. You play three games in a week all the way through the year.

“But I think sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture and what’s happening in the world. We’ve got a lot of good young Scottish players and we have to look after them.

“If you keep asking them to come and play in games of this magnitude over and over again and they start breaking down and then all of a sudden in three years time everyone says ‘where are the young Scottish players coming through?’.

“We have to be sensible with it. We all want to play football and we would have loved to play in front of a packed Ibrox. But we don’t make the government’s rules, we stick by the rules all the way through.

“It’s unfortunate that we can’t help that some of our lads’ families have to go to work and might be bringing Covid back into the house. That’s just the world we live in. But it will be nice to get a break and come back flying again. We need this mini-break to get everyone back and up to speed.”

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