Dave Challinor on 'pivotal' Hartlepool United duo in National League promotion push
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Rhys Oates and Luke Armstrong have formed a formidable strike partnership for Pools this season, playing a crucial part in the club’s promotion push.
Prior to Armstrong’s arrival on loan from Salford City in December, Pools sat 14th in the table and Oates was without a goal in his first eight appearances following his return to the club last summer.
Fast forward five months and the pair have 13 goals apiece and Hartlepool have secured a top five finish and a play-off place with games to spare.
Saturday’s 3-1 win at Aldershot saw both Armstrong and Oates get on the scoresheet as Pools kept their top three hopes alive.
But with both players suffering from niggles in recent weeks, manager Dave Challinor will be wanting to wrap them in cotton wool ahead of the crucial play-off matches.
Armstrong missed the 4-2 defeat at home to Maidenhead United with a slight hamstring issue while Oates has suffered from persistent thigh problem throughout the season.
"They’re massively important for us,” Challinor admitted. “Keeping them both fit is going to be pivotal as I said when we brought in Richie [Bennett] and Harvey [Saunders].
"Those two are mainstays for us. They’ve got 13 each this season which is a great return for them considering Luke only came here in December and Oatesy has found his scoring boots a little bit later on in the season.
"It’s great and keeping them fit and at it is important for us. Oatesy will be disappointed not to have scored more than one [at Aldershot] but they’re terrific in the fact that even when they don’t have great games they remain a nuisance for any defence.”
Oates and Armstrong have been continually praised over the course of the season for their high work-rate, all-action displays up front for Pools.
Not wanting his players to wear themselves out too much, Challinor has been working to try and control the strikers’ energy levels.
“Sometimes you try and control it so they don’t waste their energy chasing lost causes,” added the Hartlepool manager.
"We’ve worked on not wanting them to chase full backs in order to keep their legs for us to be able to get up the pitch.
"I thought they did that really well [on Saturday] but sometimes because they are so willing, it takes a lot to tell them to stop running because they are the type to run until the battery is empty.”
Challinor continued: “It’s massively positive for us. You can’t always play well, you can’t always get opportunities and from a defender’s point of view, if you’re playing the ball forward and you’ve got willing runners and people who are willing to chase lost causes, it gives you a breather.
"They do that really well and thankfully they’re getting the rewards for that in terms of their goal return as well.”
Oates and Armstrong are expected to lead the line for Pools once again as they make the trip to Sutton United on Sunday (12:45pm kick-off) for a potentially decisive top of the table clash live on BT Sport.