Hartlepool United v Exeter City: Will Billy Paynter return for Pools?

Billy Paynter
Billy Paynter

Will he or won’t he?

Unless Ronnie Moore pulls off a deal for a new striker, the Hartlepool United boss could face a tough dilemma over Billy Paynter for tomorrow’s vital League Two date with Exeter City at Victoria Park (kick-off 3pm).

The club captain is knocking on the proverbial door for a return against the Grecians.

While Paynter has played only one hour of football since recovering from an Achilles injury – scoring in a 4-0 reserve-team romp against Rotherham last Wednesday – he has trained and trained well.

With loan signing Ellis Harrison almost certain to be ruled out tomorrow, Moore could start with the 31-year-old, unless one of his transfer targets comes off.

Rakish Bingham and Scott Fenwick are the other candidates to fill the lead striker position.

After scoring a stunner at Accrington, Bingham had little joy at Cambridge last Saturday, while Fenwick lost his place for the match at the Abbey Stadium, despite his winner against Wycombe.

Moore admits Paynter is close but faces a poser how and when he comes back.

“Never say never with Billy,” said Moore. “He’s going to be involved sooner or later, it’s just a case of when.”

Moore decided against giving him a reserve run-out at Notts County on Tuesday.

But the manager feels daily sessions have been beneficial to Paynter’s comeback chances.

“It’s how you train sometimes,” he said.

“His training has been good, the only way he’s going to get match-fit is to play games.

“It’s just about when you think his fitness levels are up to a game.

“It may be you have to sit him on the bench and give him half an hour.

“But he still has to be physically right to do that.

“I’ll be governed a bit by Buster [head physio Ian Gallagher] because Billy’s been out for that long.

“Why rush him or push him? As I said before if he comes back too early he could get a calf [injury] or something.

“It’s judging the right time to bring him back and that’s hard.”

The odds are, that time could be tomorrow.

It’s not quite a must-win game, like it was the last time Exeter came to the Vic – for the final home game of the 2014-15 season – but a victory could prove vital.

Three points tomorrow would open up a gap of seven over Dagenham & Redbridge – and they would still have two games in hand.

Moore took Paynter to Cambridge last weekend, though he was not in the match-day squad, but was happy to have him involved.

“That was the whole idea of taking him down, he knew he wasn’t going to be playing,” said Moore.

“The idea was for him to have a training session on the Friday with the lads, warm up with them on Saturday and mix with the players – he is the captain of the team.

“Just his presence alone is important for everyone.

“He knew what the intention was, it wasn’t a case of us dragging him down to Cambridge and him thinking he had a chance of playing.

“I’d spoken to him beforehand and he knew he was only going there to train and be part of the build-up.

“Does he know what his involvement is against Exeter? Not yet, no-one does!”