Hartlepool United manager Dave Challinor assesses former Port Vale striker's fitness ahead of League Two opener against Crawley Town
Mark Cullen is in contention to feature in Hartlepool United’s League Two opener against Crawley Town despite being ‘two or three weeks behind’.
Cullen arrived at Pools as a trialist following his release from Port Vale at the end of the 2020-21 season and has ended up missing the majority of the pre-season campaign after picking up a hamstring injury at Spennymoor Town.
The 29-year-old was subsequently confirmed as a Pools player a week before the start of the competitive campaign.
He is a doubt to start Saturday against Crawley at Victoria Park (3pm kick-off) with manager Dave Challinor wanting the striker to get up to full fitness but could potentially get an opportunity off the substitutes bench.
“Culls has already missed seven to 10 days and is probably two or three weeks behind down to the fact that he falls in the boat of not playing a massive amount of football last year and hasn’t played competitively since around February, March time,” Challinor said.
"When we get him up to speed he can be a real asset for us if we get him in the right areas.”
The Pools boss added: “He’ll be ready to start and will want to start games. Me saying he’s [two or three weeks behind] is based on what I’ve seen from him and knowing what I need from a central striker in a two or a three.
"The demands we have for our players at the top end of the pitch aren’t excessive but they are different to other clubs.
"For where I want him to be, I think he’s still [a couple of weeks away] but he’s undoubtedly ready to play – be that in a bit part role or starting.
"Is he going to last 90-minutes? No. But I can pretty much say that with most of the players whether they’ve played in the promotion final or not.
"There will be some cobwebs to blow off playing at a level that has been different to what they’ve been playing at over the last four weeks.”
Elsewhere in the squad, teenage forward Joe Grey is the only confirmed absentee as he continues to recover from a back injury that cut his 2020-21 campaign short.
Midfielder Gavan Holohan has been monitored after picking up a knock at Blyth Spartans but is expected to start on Saturday.
“There’s only Joe Grey really,” Challinor said. “Obviously Joe has come back and we’re still being a little bit careful with him.
“He’s the only one that’s anything significant and you can say he’s definitely not going to be involved in the game.
“Apart from that, I think everyone will want to play. It’s a special day for the football club, especially for the supporters and a day that every single player would want to be walking out of that tunnel with a starting shirt on their backs in order to go and hopefully perform and make it a special day for us in terms of coming away with three points.”