HARTLEPOOL United boss John Hughes is set to use Steve Howard as his “secret” weapon from the bench for Saturday’s League One visit of Leyton Orient.
The 36-year-old striker has been sidelined with a hamstring strain since the middle of last month and there were fears that he could be out until early March.
However, Howard is now back in full training and will return to the squad for Saturday’s Victoria Park clash.
“Big Stevie might have done us a treat during the last 15 minutes the other night,” said Hughes, looking back on Tuesday’s goalless draw with Portsmouth.
“We were getting a lot of crosses in there and they were just heading it away time after time.
“Stevie might just have caused them a few problems.”
Hughes added: “He’s back training but it was probably a little bit unfair to ask him to go straight in on Tuesday.
“He’ll train for the rest of the week and hopefully he’ll play a part on Saturday.
“Stevie has a big part to play and we’re relieved he’s back a little sooner than expected.”
While Howard will start from the bench, Andy Monkhouse could be pushing for a recall with Hughes admitting he is considering one or two changes.
“We might have to look to freshen it up,” said the Scot. “Maybe there was a bit of fatigue the other night.
“There are perhaps one or two areas I could change, but a lot of them are on good form.
“There’s a spirit among them so you don’t want to make too many changes to upset that.
“I’ve seen that they’re up for the fight and want to take responsibility.”
H Pools will continue to run the rule over former Newcastle starlet Dennis Knight after his man-of-the-match showing for the club’s reserves in yesterday’s 4-1 win over Grimsby.
The 19-year-old, released by the Magpies earlier this month, and has been training with Pools for the past 10 days, along with former Newcastle team-mate Michael Riley.
He caught the eye with two goals yesterday – the first a close-range tap-in and the second a thunderous free-kick from range amid the blizzards at Billingham Town’s Bedford Terrace ground.
Coach Micky Barron said: “He gets in good positions and knows how to play that No.10 role really well. He’s got a lot of talent and we’ll definitely keep our eye on him.”
Luke James also helped himself to a brace.