Hartlepool United-Dagenham & Redbridge, Rhys Oates in contention to start

Jake Cassidy.
Jake Cassidy.

Craig Harrison admits the loss of Jake Cassidy is a “blow” though it could present a chance for Rhys Oates to take centre stage at Hartlepool United.

Cassidy, the side’s joint top scorer, has been ruled out for eight weeks with a stress fracture of the foot.

Rhys looked so much more powerful and in 20 minutes he looked a different player

Craig Harrison

But the 24-year-old’s exit has been negated by the return of Oates, who has recovered from a groin injury.

Harrison now faces a selection dilemma of who to start with through the middle for tomorrow’s huge National League test against Dagenham & Redbridge at Victoria Park (kick-off 3pm).

Connor Simpson got the nod last weekend when he started as the central striker, the teenager heading in the match-sealing third. The 17-year-old will be favourite to play tomorrow, but Oates will certainly be an option.

“Rhys is back in contention and he looked good last week,” said Harrison, who explained how he’d deliberately held back the 22-year-old.

“It’s been tricky as he’s had a couple of injuries and we made a conscious effort to get him right.

“He would probably have been available a fortnight ago if needed, but instead we gave him to [strength & conditioning coach] Craig Hubbard for two weeks of fitness work to try to eradicate the niggles and fitness issues.

“We saw that against Maidstone – he looked so much more powerful and in 20 minutes he looked a different player.

“He didn’t struggle after one run, he made two, three or them, he was closing down, getting in behind the defence.

“He’s outjumping 6ft 3in centre-halves, he’s quicker, he’s stronger and physically more robust which will prevent injuries in the future.”

Harrison said he was disappointed to lose Cassidy but would not cry about it.

“Jake has done well for us,” said the manager. “It’s a blow without a shadow of doubt and I’m disappointed for him.

“But what can we do about it now? I believe in controlling the controllables, but this is something we or Jake can’t control.

“I’ve had a lot of injury history myself and know how frustrating it is.

“I’m a big believer that something like this, while disappointing, presents an opportunity for some else.

“Unless you are a Wayne Rooney of this world the chances most opportunities come from an injury to someone else.

“My opportunity came through someone getting injured and last Saturday, it was Connor who took his chance well.”

It would be hard to omit Simpson, though Oates can’t be dismissed – he could possibly be fielded on the right of the front three with Devante Rodney used as an impact sub.

The rest of the side is almost certain to remain unaltered.

There is a dilemma or two for Daggers boss John Still.

Defender Sam Ling is available after being suspended for the 3-1 victory over Gateshead, a result which put the Daggers top, while leading scorer Olly Whitely is expected to return from injury.