MARATHON man Neil Austin is yet to miss a minute for Hartlepool United this season – and now he wants to make it through to the last kick of the campaign.
The 28-year-old has started – and finished – each of Pools’ 29 matches so far this term, already eclipsing his total from last season.
Austin admits he spent too much time in the physio room and the commentary box towards the back end of the previous campaign, a torn calf muscle seeing to that.
And when he missed the bulk of the summer preparations this time around, the defender feared he was set for a frustrating start to the year.
However, he won his fitness race for the opening-day draw at MK Dons and he has not looked back since.
“I’ve played every minute so far this season, but I’m trying not to think about that – I keep touching wood,” he said ahead of Saturday’s trip to Sheffield Wednesday.
“I’ve had quite a few injuries in my career where I’ve been out for a couple of months, so I’m just trying to stay injury-free as long as possible.
“I’m very happy with that and I’m happy with my fitness as well – I’ve just got to keep going.”
A string of setbacks did not aid Austin’s cause last season and his absence lingered from February until the end of April, meaning an unsuccessful defence of his player-of-the-season title.
He reflected: “It was so frustrating last year. The injuries were through no fault of my own.
“I spent more time in the physios’ room and the commentary box than I did on the pitch towards the end of the season.
“But I’ve always looked after myself off the pitch and I’m seeing the rewards of that now.
“I’ve said all along that I want my player-of-the-season trophy back, but I’ll only get that by staying fit and in the team.”
Austin signed a new deal with Pools back in May and when fit, has always been one of the first names on the team sheet.
His form, however, had dipped until the arrival of new boss Neale Cooper last month and he has been back approaching his best in recent matches.
And Austin hopes the second half of the season will see Pools achieve a higher finish than the 16th of last year.
“I was over the moon when I signed my new deal,” he said. “I didn’t have to think twice and the aim was always to be better than last season – personally and on a team level.
“I feel strong fitness-wise and as good as I ever have.
“On a team level, we have to be better at home, I’d never known anything like it (the run of nine straight home defeats) in my career.
“You don’t think about the home record when you are playing, but you read it in the press and people speak about it. Obviously, it isn’t something you want to be tagged with.
“But we’ve got a fantastic spirit here and we’re all looking forward now.
“If someone had said we’d be where we are now at the start of the season, then we would have definitely taken it.”