Michael Woods is back and he hopes it’s for good.
Hartlepool United’s number 14 will certainly be covering a lot of ground at the delightfully-named Kuflink Stadium tomorrow in South East London.
Once you are in the team, you want to make the shirt your own and I’m no differentMICHAEL WOODS
Scott Loach might be the first name on the team sheet, in more ways than one, but Woods will be an automatic pick against Ebbsfleet.
The 27-year-old was recalled in midweek after losing his starting place at Boreham Wood and against Aldershot. And he made a dream return, inspiring Pools to their biggest win of the season, a 4-0 pasting of Halifax Town.
He covered every blade of grass, clocking up seven and a half miles. But not only that, he had assists in three out of the four goals.
Woods was imperious, there is no other word for it.
His form, his influence, should come as no surprise.
When Woods is flying, Pools are flying.
Woods missed five and a half of the first six matches of the National League programme.
But after a man-of-the-match display on his resumption in the midfield in the 1-0 victory at Guiseley, Pools did not look back, losing just once in 12 league games.
However, the 3-0 FA Cup first round defeat at Morecambe interrupted the progress of the side. It also cost Woods his place in Craig Harrison’s starting XI.
Even the best are allowed an off-day, though there were mitigating factors for the ex-Chelsea midfielder, given he has been troubled by an Achilles problem, not the best ailment you could be lumbered with when run-all-day vigour is what your game is built on.
Not that Woods was looking to register any excuses – he told SportMail that he deserved to lose his place but now he’s back in he does not intend to lose his shirt again.
“I’ve had to manage it over the last three or four weeks,” he said. “It has been sore and I’ve not been able to train fully.
“But that is no excuse.
“The gaffer pulled me out of the side and sometimes you just have to hold up your hands and say that you are not at it.
“Morecambe was disappointing. I think no-one could have complained to losing their place after that match.
“I’m like every footballer – we all want to play every match, no-one likes missing games.
“But competition for places is fierce and if you are not at it, you are out.
“I was certainly not going to be knocking the manager’s door down after being pulled out.
“But he made changes on Tuesday night, I got the start and I felt good.
“Once you are in the team, you want to make the shirt your own and I’m no different.
“I’m hoping to keep it now.”
It would be astonishing should Woods NOT be selected – the four-goal spree was as good as it’s been all season.
And, typical of the ex-England youth international, his thoughts were for the form of Pools rather than his own game.
“It was a good performance from the team,” he said. “I think a lot of it was a reaction to the weekend [a 2-0 home defeat to Aldershot].
“I think everyone felt we needed to prove a point and we played some really good football.
“Now we need to continue that and get back to back wins.
“The league is very tight, but if we can do that then we have a great chance to move up a place or two.”
Not that tomorrow will be easy at Stonebridge Road.
Ebbsfleet may be below Pools, but they are a not a side accustomed to losing.
They have been beaten only five times following their promotion into the National League with the Reds the division’s draw specialists with 10.
“All away games in this league are tough,” said Woods. “So will this, but when we’re at it, I believe we can be a match for anyone and we’ve got to make sure we’re at it.”
Woods was part of a new-look midfield, playing alongside the recalled Conor Newton and Nicky Featherstone.
“Conor’s like me, he prefers getting forward,” he explained. “It’s great having Feaths behind us, the way he patrols, sweeps up, gets on the ball and gets us playing. It went well.”