SAM Collins has a chance to play his way into a long run in Hartlepool United’s side after a “commanding” first start in more than two months.
The 36-year-old was drafted into the heart of defence in place of Jack Baldwin, who completed a deadline day transfer to Peterborough United but would have been suspended anyway.
Boss Colin Cooper believes his performance in the goalless draw with Scunthorpe United at Victoria Park was a “credit to him”.
It was Collins’ first start for Pools since the Rotherham United match in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy defeat in mid-November and his 10th appearance of the season.
“At 36, I’ve said to Sam and Marlon Harewood , that your age is mentally whatever you want it to be,” said Cooper.
“When I was 36 I was in as good a shape as at any point throughout my career because I understood everything more.
“Sam has focused himself on keeping his fitness up and being a player and being ready and that is a credit to him.
“When he came in against Scunthorpe, it maybe took him 10 minutes to find his legs but after that he looked smashing, grew into the game and looked more confident and was commanding.
“Even at 36 you still have to find your way into a match.
“Sam hasn’t played regularly for a while, so finding your legs, your lungs and positional sense is the hardest thing but he looked strong.
“Considering we couldn’t have used Jack until the Newport game anyway, Sam was always in my mind that he would play against Scunthorpe and moving forward we will just see how we go.”
Meanwhile, stand-in captain Neil Austin is to be assessed after having to be substituted in the goalless draw after suffering from a badly bruised big toe.
It happened in the second-half as a result of a flying block on a Gary McSheffrey shot and the Pools gaffer said the club can’t afford to lose any more players.
“We can ill-afford it but without belittling it, he has a really sore bloody toe,” said Cooper.
“He tried to dig in but, having been there myself, if you have a sore toe it is hard to keep going if everything you do is around your big toe.
“You are pushing off, passing, jumping – everything is to do with that.
“The plus point of that is we can now play Jordan Richards again after suspension and Michael Duckworth is only a couple of weeks away.
“We have things that will take care of that but we can’t afford to lose people through injury, we just don’t have the numbers.”