STAND-IN skipper Neil Austin was more than happy to play through the pain barrier and even put his body on the line at the death to save a point for Hartlepool United at Bristol Rovers last night.
The 27-year-old ignored the lingering soreness of a calf problem which had threatened to keep him out of the trip to the West Country.
Austin was a major doubt for the game, having limped out of Saturday’s defeat against Dagenham, but handed boss Mick Wadsworth a major boost by declaring himself fit on Monday.
And you would never have known the Yorkshireman was carrying a knock given his whole-hearted performance at the Memorial Stadium.
Indeed, with just seconds of injury-time remaining, Pirates dangerman Jo Kuffour found space inside the penalty area and looked odds-on to steal an undeserved win for Dave Penney’s men.
But Austin had other ideas and threw his frame in the path of the striker’s goal-bound strike to prevent a repeat of the late weekend heartache against The Daggers.
And he told SportMail: “You’ve got to be careful with Jo Kuffour because he doesn’t give you a second so I was pleased to get that block in.
“I didn’t really think about it and just put myself in the way and got the block in.
“But Armann (Bjornsson) got a couple in as well and I thought we defended well.
“We said before the game that we needed a clean sheet and we can go home on the bus a lot happier than if we’d conceded or been beaten.”
He added: “It’s encouraging to come down here and go home with a point, especially with a performance like that after three disappointing defeats.
“I would say it’s probably one point gained rather than two points dropped and it’s a platform to build on again.”
And Austin admits he didn’t fancy his chances of making the game after being forced off on Saturday.
“On Saturday night and Sunday morning there was no chance I would be playing,” he said.
“But 48 hours did the trick, it was still hurting a little bit but I got through it and I’m glad I did.”
The stalemate means Pools have now gone nearly five hours without a goal in League One, but Austin isn’t unduly concerned.
“We’re not worried about not scoring,” he said, “We know we’ve got players in the team who can score goals.
“Andy Monkhouse hasn’t scored one for a while so I think he might pop up with one soon.
“Antony Sweeney is on top form this season as well and we’ve still got James Brown to come back so we’re not worried about that.”