SIMON Walton will be “champing at the bit” to return to the Hartlepool United side for tomorrow’s vital Sky Bet League Two showdown with Rochdale.
That is the view of boss Colin Cooper, who will replace Matty Dolan with Walton in the Pools midfield at Victoria Park.
Dolan’s loan stay has not been extended by Middlesbrough, who have recalled the 20-year-old, with head coach Aitor Karanka planning to run the rule over him.
Cooper admits it is a blow to lose Dolan, who has been outstanding in his three-month stint at home-town club Pools.
It is not necessarily the end of Dolan’s days in a blue and white shirt, but he is unlikely to return before February.
But Dolan’s departure means a recall for Walton in the centre of the park.
Ironically, Dolan and Walton had been superb as a midfield combination until Cooper opted to change things for the Boxing Day trip to Chesterfield.
With Brad Walker forming a new alliance with Dolan, Walton has missed the last three matches, the draw with the Spireites, the brilliant 2-1 win at Morecambe and the 3-0 home defeat to Bury on New Year’s day.
However, Walton will play tomorrow in a ‘W’ formation with Walker though Cooper does not rule out bringing in new blood.
“Simon was disappointed to lose his place when Brad came back into the team,” Cooper said.
“I’d like to think he’ll be champing at the bit to play against Rochdale.
“Simon has had a good season for us and if he was disappointed then had every right to be.
“Does it mean I will stop looking?
“I’ve a couple of things on-going and I’m waiting on some calls, so it probably won’t be in place for the weekend.
“We are looking to try to improve things and the only way to do that is to get players in who will go straight into the team and improve it.
“We have the possibility of two players coming into Hartlepool who will improve us.
“If it doesn’t happen then we use the rest of the month and beyond to look at ways to improve.
“We aren’t trying to isolate anyone or force anyone out, it’s about getting better.”
Walton and Dolan had become quite a force in the midfield during their stint together, but Cooper is backing the Ws to flourish against Rochdale.
He believes Walton will be fired up to perform after his three-game absence while Walker has returned for a stint with England U18 with confidence enhanced.
“They played together earlier in the season and Simon really helped to drive him on,” Cooper explained.
“How Brad and Simon perform together now is vital for us moving forward in 2014.
“If anyone comes in or not, those in the team have to show how badly they want to be in the team.
“As a pair, I thought they complimented themselves quite well.
“Simon helped him and nurtured him through the early games.
“But Brad is a confident, 17-year-old player who has enjoyed stepping up to the arena to play.
“Having watched Rochdale play against Leeds last week in the FA Cup, I’m sure him and Simon will have a good test against Matt Lund and Ian Henderson.
“It’s a challenge but one they can look forward to.”
Cooper has a decision to make over Jack Compton after the midfielder produced a lively display on his return from a two-game absence for a calf injury in Wednesday night’s Durham Cup exit at Consett.
Despite the 4-3 defeat, Compton looked sharp and Cooper must choose to restore him straight into the starting XI or use him from the bench.
Jordan Richards could aqlso feature on the bench after also looking sharp in a 45-minute appearance at Belle View after recovering from a double hernia surgery.
HARTLEPOOL (probable): Flinders, Duckworth, Baldwin, Burgess, Austin, Franks, Walton, Walker, Monkhouse, Poole, James. Subs: Rafferty, Collins, Richards, Holden, Compton, Sweeney, Rodney