Matthew Bates looks set to keep faith with Nathan Thomas for Saturday’s critical League Two shoot-out with Doncaster Rovers.
Hartlepool United’s joint second top scorer looked off-colour at Cheltenham last weekend, despite his feeling of excitement in the build-up to the relegation six-pointer.
Nathan has been struggling with a bit of a niggly knee problemMatthew Bates
Thomas felt a weight had been lifted from him following the sacking of Dave Jones – a manager he said he had failed to see eye-to-eye with or be inspired by.
But the 22-year-old, who fired wide with an early long-range volley against Cheltenham, never got going and was substituted 10 minutes into the second half.
But Bates, fronting the management team with Billy Paynter, Stuart Parnaby and Ian Gallagher, explained that there were mitigating circumstances.
“Nathan has been struggling with a bit of a niggly knee problem last week,” said 30-year-old Bates.
“He’s had a little tendonitis, he didn’t train on Friday.
“We held off till the last minute for him and he said he was all right.
“He was all right, but it wasn’t just his day.
“The pitch did not really suit him.”
Bates said it was a simple decision to bring him off and put Rhys Oates up front alongside leading marksman Padraig Amond and Lewis Alessandra.
Oates made an almost-instant impression, his cross setting up Amond, whose shot was hooked off the line by defender Liam Davis.
It leaves Bates and his colleagues with a poser regarding the make up of the forward line for the visit of title contenders Rovers (5.30pm kick-off).
Amond and Alessandra both looked lively, the latter showing some sharp footwork, while the top scorer was denied two likely goals by the excellence of keeper Scott Brown and the last-ditch intervention from Davis.
It would be a shock were the A-team not to be united in the strikeforce again, with Thomas in support.
The nine-goal former Sunderland product is a potential match-winner on his day with the skill and speed he has at his disposal.
However, the Whaddon Road pitch last week resembled a battlefield, given the poor state of repair it was in, and certainly was not conducive to an artist of his calibre.
It would have been akin to asking Rembrandt to paint a masterpiece on a piece of kitchen roll.
Thomas is a player who performs better with an arm around his shoulder, evidenced by six goals in 16 starts with Craig Hignett as his boss compared to two in 18 under Jones.