HARTLEPOOL United are set for an injury boost with Michael Duckworth expected to return to training tomorrow, writes RICHARD MENNEAR.
But there is more frustrating news for sidelined defender Neil Austin, whose toe problem continues to cause concern.
Right-back Duckworth has been out of the first-team picture since suffering soft tissue damage in the 2-0 defeat at Northampton at the end of February.
But manager Colin Cooper says the 21-year-old could make his long-awaited return to training tomorrow at Pools’ Maiden Castle base – although he insists he won’t be rushing him back into first-team action.
“I think Saturday (at home to Bristol Rovers) will be too soon,” said Cooper.
“He may only be lucky to get on the training ground on Friday. We have another reserve game next week against Mansfield, which we may get Michael involved in but we will see as it may be too early.
“After last time, I certainly don’t want to rush him back.
“If I get anything out of Michael before the end of the season, after going through what he has been through the poor lad, then I will be delighted.
“If he can get half a dozen, seven or eight games then that will be great.
“But let’s not disregard Jordan Richards, who has done a smashing job after getting his opportunity.”
Battling Austin has not played since going off in the goalless draw at home to Scunthorpe at the start of February after injuring himself while making a block.
Cooper added: “We have had Neil down to see another specialist, who was not happy with something he has seen on one of the X-rays.
“We have double checked that and Neil will this week be having another scan and another assessment.
“Hopefully it is not too bad but it is frustrating for Neil.”
Hartlepool United’s reserves are through to the last four of the Final Third Development League Cup – despite losing their last group tie 6-1 to rampant Sheffield Wednesday yesterday.
Pools will go into the semi-final draw alongside Leicester, Wigan and Mansfield – edging through on goals scored.
The Victoria Park second string, managed by John Hewitson and assisted by Sam Collins, qualified in dramatic fashion at Wednesday’s training ground, with James Poole’s late consolation goal itaking his side through – Wednesday needed to win by six goals to pip Pools, and almost sealed the deal.
The sides finished level on points and goal difference.
Mani Dieseruvwe (2), Rhys McCabe, Gateshead-born striker Gary Madine, Rafael Floro and Jack Stobbs notched for the Owls, but Poole decisively fired a fine shot into the far corner to make it 6-1.
Pools earlier saw home keeper Joe Wildsmith save Nialle Rodney’s spot-kick.