NEWS that Oldham Athletic have pulled out all the stops to ensure Sunday’s FA Cup tie with Liverpool goes ahead was music to Jonjo Shelvey’s ears.
The Latics’ groundstaff have been busy shifting tonnes of snow off Boundary Park and a protective ‘bubble’ has been installed to pump in hot air to thaw out the frozen pitch.
Shelvey is desperate to put the frustration of recent weeks behind him and use the fourth round clash with the League One outfit to impress boss Brendan Rodgers.
After enjoying a run of five successive Premier League starts in December, the 20-year-old midfielder has spent the past four league showdowns warming the bench.
His only action so far in 2013 came in the last round against Mansfield but he’s set to earn a recall for the short trip to Oldham.
“I’m really looking forward to Sunday and if I start then I’ve got to take my chance,” he said.
“I haven’t played in the league since the defeat at Stoke on Boxing Day. That wasn’t a great game for me personally but the team didn’t play well either.
“Since then I’m the one who has suffered a bit with coming out of the team but you have to accept it.
“It’s the manager’s decision and I’m just working hard every day to try to get back in the team.
“I know I’m still young and I’ve played in 26 games already this season but that’s not enough, I want to play more.
“I’ve been a bit ill this week but I’ll be fine for Sunday and if I get some game-time I need to prove myself.”
Shelvey has been Mr Versatile for the Reds so far this term. As well as playing in his favoured central midfield role, Rodgers has utilised his talents out wide and further forward as a second striker.
He has even led the line on occasions – grabbing the winner away to West Ham when in the absence of the suspended Luis Suarez he was asked to perform the false No 9 role.
“It’s been good experience for me and it’s helped me develop as a player,” Shelvey said.
“When you look at the likes of Steven Gerrard, he has always played in a variety of different positions.
“I’m not comparing myself to him, but it shows that it’s good experience that will help me later on down the line in my career.
“Eventually I want to play centre midfield as I want to be more in the thick of things, but I’m happy playing further up the pitch and at the moment the manager sees me as a more attacking player.
“This is Liverpool Football Club so I’d play left-back if it meant getting a game. If the team is struggling for a left winger or a No 10 or a striker, the manager knows I can fill in there.”
After having to dig deep to get past non-league outfit Mansfield, Shelvey says the Reds are braced for another test of character on the road.
Paul Dickov’s struggling Oldham side are 19th in League One and have suffered three straight league defeats since they enjoyed a shock 3-2 win at Nottingham Forest in the last round.
But Shelvey insists that will count for nothing come Sunday afternoon as the Latics look to give a sell-out 10,600 crowd something to shout about.
“We came through a tricky tie at Mansfield where winning was the most important thing. The pitch wasn’t great and there was a noisy atmosphere and Sunday will be a similar kind of game,” he added.
“When you are playing in the FA Cup, I don’t think league form comes into it at all. You can be top of the Premier League and it doesn’t matter.
“This is a one-off game and it’s a big day for Oldham. Their players might not get the chance to play against Liverpool again and they will want to make the most of it. The atmosphere will be lively and the adrenaline will be pumping,.
“It’s only down the road so you’ve got that bit of rivalry between the Mancs and the Scousers thrown in.
“It will be a tough game and we have to go there and be professional. If we do our jobs then our ability should see us through.
“We have to show our fans and the manager why we play for Liverpool and why we deserve a shirt.
“The TV cameras are there hoping for a shock. They want the favourites to be beaten so there is plenty to talk about. But we have to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Shelvey has happy memories of the last time the clubs met in the third round of the Cup last January.
Oldham were hammered 5-1 at Anfield with the former Charlton youngster bagging his first goal for the Reds with a neat finish in front of the Kop.
It was the start of a Cup run which ended in defeat to Chelsea in the final with Shelvey watching on as an unused substitute.
See off the Latics on Sunday and Liverpool will only be two wins away from a return to Wembley.
“To open my account for Liverpool that night was special and it’s been good to get a few more since,” he said.
“I took it off Stevie’s foot if I remember rightly! I didn’t bother keeping any special momentoes because I had confidence that there would be plenty more where that one came from.
“Last year’s Cup run was great for the club but when you’re not in the side you don’t really feel fully involved.
“I’d love to help Liverpool get back to Wembley this season and this time play a part but we need to take it game by game. Let’s take care of Sunday first and then see what comes up next.
“With the FA Cup, the Europa League and fighting for fourth place in the Premier League, there’s still so much to play for this season.
“The gaffer’s signings have improved the squad and he always said that he believed we would get stronger and stronger in the second half of the season.
“These are exciting times but we can’t afford to look any further ahead than Oldham.”