Hartlepool United boss Ronnie Moore faces a tough dilemma over Billy Paynter for tomorrow’s vital League Two date with Exeter City at Victoria Park.
The club captain is knocking on the proverbial door for a return against the Grecians.
While Paynter has played only one hour of football since recovering from an Achilles injury – scoring in a 4-0 reserve-team romp against Rotherham last Wednesday – he has trained well.
With loan signing Ellis Harrison almost certain to be ruled out by an ankle problem tomorrow, Moore could start with 31-year-old ex-Leeds forward Paynter, unless one of his transfer targets comes off.
Rakish Bingham and Scott Fenwick are the other candidates to fill the lead striker position.
“The competition is on for the spot, one of them strikers is going to play,” said Moore. “It’s whether we stick with the same system as last week, which has got us some decent performances and results.
“I’ve got a headache on which one we go with.”
Moore admits Paynter is close but faces a poser how and when he comes back.
“Never say never with Billy,” added Moore. “He’s going to be involved sooner or later, it’s just a case of when.”
Moore decided against giving him a reserve run-out at Notts County on Tuesday.
But the manager feels daily sessions have been beneficial to Paynter’s comeback chances. “It’s how you train sometimes,” he said.
“His training has been good, the only way he’s going to get match-fit is to play games.
“It’s just about when you think his fitness levels are up to a game.
“It may be you have to sit him on the bench and give him half an hour.
“But he still has to be physically right to do that.
“It’s judging the right time to bring him back and that’s hard.”
Paynter himself admitted: “I’m nearly back, I’m getting there. “It’s been a slow process, but you need time after an Achilles injury.
“I felt strong and good after playing for the reserves last week – it dusted off the cobwebs.
“I’m hoping I can work my way back onto the bench.
“It’s up to the manager when he wants to put me back in.
“I will be waiting for that moment!”
Three points tomorrow would open up a gap of seven over second-bottom Dagenham & Redbridge – and Pools would still have two games in hand.
Former Sunderland centre-back Scott Harrison is fit to return but will have to be content with a spot on the bench.
Pools (possible): Carson, Richards, Bates, Jackson, Carroll, Oates, Woods, Featherstone, Gray, Hawkins, Paynter. Subs (from): Bartlett, Jones, S Harrison, Walker, Fenwick, Bingham, Thomas, Smith.