COLIN Cooper said full-back Neil Austin is desperate to get back to full fitness as soon as possible after being ruled out for the season.
Austin has been told he needs an operation to help cure the troublesome toe injury sustained during the goalless draw with Scunthorpe United back at the start of February.
It has been a frustrating six weeks for the 30-year-old and his manager said the club has gone down every avenue to solve the problem including X-rays, assessments and having orthotics fitted.
But all attempts to give better support to the affected area have not worked and it has been confirmed the full-back needs surgery.
Austin had been a key member of the starting XI this season, playing in both the right and left-back berths while also captaining the side - so the news will come as a blow to Cooper.
But young defenders Jordan Richards and Darren Holden have both fitted in well, helping to cover for Austin and right-back Michael Duckworth, also out injured with soft tissue damage but he is expected to return to training soon.
The club’s medical staff, including physio Ian Gallagher, have been working hard to try and prevent the need for surgery, including recently having Austin fitted with orthotics in an attempt to give better support.
Sadly, a specialist has confirmed the only route left was an operation.
Cooper said: “I said at the time that I would never be-little an injury and after this period of time when it hasn’t settled down the specialist has said he needs to have the surgery.
“Buster, our physio, works very hard and I think he knew early doors something wasn’t quite right but it’s taken this long to let everything in and around the joint settle down so the extent of the problem can be seen on a scan.
“We’ve gone down every avenue to try and help Neil but now the specialist has told us that the only alternative is to have the operation.
“It’s a blow for us but Neil is a top professional and knows the score so I’m sure he just wants to get back to fitness as soon as possible,” Cooper told the club’s website
The injury blow came ahead of this afternoon’s Sky Bet League Two clash with Bristol Rovers at Victoria Park, which will see Hartlepool United look to extend their good form on home soil.
In the past four matches they have picked up three wins and a draw with four consecutive clean-sheets.
On-loan Middlesbrough defender Christian Burgess said the side is looking to extend the good run of home form.
This week on the road, Pools picked up just a solitary point from two games, the 2-1 defeat to Wycombe Wanderers last Saturday and the goalless draw at Accrington Stanley on Tuesday.
The 22-year-old said: “We stopped the rot at Accrington and hopefully we will take that back to The Vic.
“We prefer playing at home and play some good stuff and we will be looking to win the game.
“The challenge on Tuesday was to go to Accrington and get a result and after the game the manager set us a new challenge to try and pick up more points at home and try and really push on.
“The aim is to get another clean sheet this weekend and pick up three points.
“If you can get a clean sheet then that gives you a base to build when pushing for the play-offs.”
The on-loan Boro defender enjoys playing at The Vic and said the defence will be looking for another shut out.
“I just think away from home we have maybe been a bit too relaxed,” added Burgess.
“At Accrington we got a bit of our fight back, which we have lacked in the previous two away games.
“It has been frustrating but at home - with the crowd especially behind you - it is always easier to play.
“We will look to keep the clean sheets going, score some goals and pick up the win.”