ATHLETIC are exploring options to bolster their squad before the January transfer window opens after injuries left them “a little bit short” on numbers.

Manager Allan Johnston has admitted he is looking at what could be available to him both in the New Year and its run-up after losing Aaron Splaine to a broken leg last week.

The 21-year-old midfielder sustained the horror injury in a Fife Cup tie with Burntisland Shipyard and, although he had a successful operation last Thursday on a fractured tibia and fibula, he is expected to face a lengthy period on the sidelines.

Striker Andy Ryan – who had hit two goals in as many games – suffered an ankle injury during a crossing and shooting drill in training on Friday ahead of Saturday’s draw with Dumbarton, and is a doubt for this weekend’s trip to Dundee United.

Speaking to Press Sport this week, Johnston said: “We’ve got cover for all positions just now but, if we picked up another injury or suspensions, we could be leaving it really tight.

“It’s something we’re aware of and that we’re looking at in the background. We’re looking but it’s difficult at this time of year, especially right now just before January because it’s only really emergency loans outwith the transfer window that you can bring in.

“That really limits the players you can bring in and who’s available. We are looking and if we feel we need to bring someone in and we can get them in, we’ll bring them in.

“Aaron’s had his operation; the surgeon said it went fine, which is good, but it’s going to be a while before he’s back.

“It does leave us a little bit short in terms of numbers, especially with some of the young boys being out on loan as well.

“We need to start organising and planning if we need somebody just now or in January, but we will definitely be strengthening the squad.

“We’ve got the option to bring people in, so we’re in a good position where we’re able to do that.”

Meanwhile Johnston has told his stars that there’s “no point in feeling sorry for ourselves” after their disappointing performance against the Sons – and wants to see a response at Tannadice.

Despite Nicky Clark’s 89th minute leveller, the two points dropped have allowed leaders St Mirren to pull six points clear of the Pars, with second-top United four ahead.

The home fans were equally as unhappy as Johnston was after the game, but he continued: “I don’t think anybody was at their best on Saturday.

“You might get away with one or two people maximum not playing at their best, but it was one of those days where nobody was quite at it 100 per cent.

“You get days like that and, when you do, that’s when you have to come in and turn it around. They were disappointed with the result but they want to go and kick on again.

“There’s no point feeling sorry for ourselves. We’ve got to make sure we respond in the right manner and there’s no bigger game than on Saturday.

“It’s going to be hard; Dundee United will probably be the favourites and it’ll need a big performance from everybody. We can’t afford to have a number of players having an off day – everybody’s got to be at it if we’re to get a result there.

“We’ve got to learn from our mistakes. When you look at how close the league is, if we’d managed another 4-5 points, it makes a massive difference. We’ve had too many draws lately.

“You’re going to get periods where you’re slightly off it compared to the start of the season but we’ve got players capable of turning it around and turning draws into wins again.”