COLIN Cooper does not want to bring in any new players to Hartlepool United “for the sake of it”.
But the Pools boss is “ready to react” and sign some cover at the back with defensive options thin on the ground.
Michael Duckworth has handed Pools a boost by returning to full training, but his comeback has coincided with the news they are going to be minus Neil Austin for the rest of the season with a toe problem.
Cooper does have some options now at full-back, something which cannot be said about central defence,
Jack Baldwin has been replaced from within, Sam Collins coming in to do a sterling job alongside Christian Burgess.
With previous stand-in Austin absent, promising youngsters Dan Jones and Josh Rowbotham are the only other specialist central defenders at the club.
“Are we running out of players?” said Cooper.
“The plus point is we do have a full-back returning, with Michael Duckworth in full training.
“Unfortunately, Neil’s season is over and he was someone who could cover a variety of positions across the back line.
“We are short defensively, and I’ve watched a couple of games this week, but I won’t bring players in for the sake of it, something I’ve stuck to all season.
“But we are at a point where if we get in the mix and lose a defensive player, then we are probably short.
“It’s something to look at and I’ve got things in place if I need it.
“I’m ready to react, if needed, but you don’t wish ill on anybody.
“I would love to think we can flow through the next nine games and everything is hunky-dory.
“But it may not happen, hence the reason foer me watching a bit of football this week.
“We have options in other areas, but not defensively.”
Duckworth, providing there is no reaction to his full week on the Maiden Castle training ground, will come into the squad tonight at Oxford’s Kassam Stadium.
One of the players of the season so far will be on the bench, with Cooper standing by Sunderland-born Jordan Richards at right-back.
Cooper’s only change to the side which began against Bristol Rovers will be Jack Compton coming in out wide for Andy Monnkhouse, who faces three to four weeks out with a hamstring injury.
It’s a welcome return for Compton after a frustraing period in the dug-out as one of the seven subs.
The 25-year-old looked a real livewire and Cooper wannts more of the same from his protege.
“Andy has been a strong member of the team this season,” said Cooper.
“It’s a grade two tear. Even for a quick healer, it’s probably a month out.
“It’s disappointing for him – he’s been an integral part of the team.
“Jack did smashing on Saturday and it gives him a chance to spark at the end of the season, like he did earlier on.
“He’s had a frustrating time in between, but it’s his opportunity now to be a catalyst for us to keep us on the front foot.”
If Cooper thinks he has defensive issues, he should try the shoes of Mickey Lewis.
Oxford’s caretaker boss had only just got a full squad back at his disposal when he lost three players last Saturday.
Defenders Tom Newey and Michael Raynes are both suspended after being sent off at Chesterfield.
Midfielder Johnny Mullins, who would have been switched to the back, is out with an ankle injury after being stretchered off at the Proact Stadium.
Dave Kitson (hamstring) is struggling while on the subject of struggling, out-of-sorts striker Deane Smalley is likely to be dropped to the bench.
Lewis looks set to bring in youngster Matt Bevans at right-back to replace Newey with Dave Hunt switching from full-back to centre-half to fill the void left by Raynes.
Scott Davies, usually a midfielder, could be drafted in at left-back even though he’s a natural right-footer as Lewis shuffles his pack.
Oxford (possible): Clarke; Bevans, Hunt, Wright, Davies; Williams, Rose, Ruffles, Rigg; Constable, Connolly.
Pools (probable): Flinders; Richards, Collins, Burgess, Holden; Barmby, Walton, Walker, Compton; Harewood, James. Subs: Rafferty, Duckworth, Rowbothan, Sweeney, Poole, Frannks, Rodney