COLIN Cooper admits Hartlepool United must play a waiting game over Neil Austin and Michael Duckworth.
For so long this season, the defenders were Cooper’s first choices in the left and right-back slots with Austin also wearing the captain’s armband.
But the Pools boss admits he does not know when either may pull on the blue and white jersey again.
Both are struggling to regain fitness.
Both have been X-rayed and while neither have, thunkfully, suffered fractures they are still in some pain and won’t be involved against Torquay United.
Young full-backs Jordan Richards and Daren Holden will again play in the wide roles tomorrow outside Sa Collins and Christian Burgess.
Austin is still missing with a sore toe.
It may sound trivial but, to Austin and Pools, it is becoming a worry after missing the last four League Two matches.
“Aussie’s toe is still sore and he is off to see a specialist to see if any orthodontics can help,” Cooper explained.
“We’ve spoken in the week and it is still very sore.
“Aussie is not someone to miss games and training without good reason.
“When tries to push off – and you do that a lot in football – he is in a lot of pain.”
The frustration is just as palpable for Duckworth.
The 21-year-old’s comeback last Saturday after an eight-match absence following a double hernia lasted under 11 minutes – he was carried off Sixfields on a stretcher.
Initial fears were that he’d broken his left leg but, fortunately, the damage is ‘only’ soft tissue.
“I don’t know about Michael if I’m bring brutally honest,” said Cooper, who explained that Duckworth is in the healing hands of physio Ian Gallagher.
“All we have done this week is to keep him off his feet.
“Last Saturday the X-ray was negative, but quite rightly Buster [Gallagher] wanted a second look and revisit it, which we did Tuesday.
“The only thing I can say is that Michael is still in pain.
“So Buster is making sure he negates things as he goes along, ruling this out and ruling that out until we get to the crux.
“The pain he was in last weekend left us very worried and now we’re assessing him day by day.
“As soon as the pain goes we can start weight-bearing again and if the pain reappears then something isn’t quite right.
“Mother nature will tell us how he is feeling.
“From my point of view, the quicker the better, but there’s nothing we can do if he is in pain.
“Last weekend the radiologist said if nothing was broken he could put some ice on it and play the next weekend!
“I don’t think it quite works like that.
“Knowing how tough Michael is and seeing him in such pain, I feared the worst.
“It’s day by day for him and we have 13 games left and hopefully we get him back for the majority.”