MICHAEL Duckworth is adamant the intense competition for places at right-back at Hartlepool United is helping improve his game.
The 22-year-old is Colin Cooper’s first choice full-back ahead of Stuart Parnaby, currently out with a knee injury, and Jordan Richards.
But with Neil Austin and Boro loanee David Atkinson both capable of playing across the back four, the competition for places at right-back has become a running joke amongst supporters.
If only it was the same for other areas of the pitch then Pools may not be struggling at the wrong end of the table.
The side are currently languishing third from bottom with just eight points from 10 games.
But Duckworth, who returned from a hamstring injury to play 90 minutes against Portsmouth, is just concentrating on his own game.
He told SportMail: “There is a fair bit of competition at the club defensively – especially at right-back!
“Stuart [Parnaby] is out injured at the moment but there is also me and Jordan, while Aussie can play there and there is also Darren [Holden] at left-back and David [Atkinson].
“We have competition in defence and that makes it better for me.
“It makes me feel like I need to continue working hard in order to stay in the team and I am just working hard to re-establish myself in the first team.
“Jordan was doing well but I was pleased to get back in.
“Not playing does frustrate me – it is the same for any player – and it is good to be back playing again.”
The full-back is also enjoying playing alongside summer signing Matthew Bates and on-loan Sunderland defender Scott Harrison – enjoying a second loan spell at Pools.
Duckworth added: “I was with Scott Harrison for a spell at the end of last season and he is a very good centre-half.
“It is a new experience playing along Batesy, who is very experienced.
“He keeps talking and encouraging me through the matches, which is good and what I need.
“Batesy keeps me right and I feel like I am benefiting from playing alongside those two.”
Marauding Duckworth – who loves nothing more than bombing forward – returned to the Pools side after missing the previous four matches with a hamstring injury.
He admitted it was hard going by the end of the 90 minutes but was pleased to get a full game under his belt on his return.
Reflecting on the Pompey match, he said: “I felt good going forward.
“We haven’t had the best start to the season – me included – but I thought I was better both defensively and offensively against Portsmouth.
“I was blowing towards the end mind – I won’t lie!
“That comes with game time and it is hard to come straight back in and play the full 90 minutes.
“I was feeling a bit heavy towards the end but the gaffer was egging me on to keep going and I did that.”