Hartlepool Utd’s Austin happy to keep playing anywhere

Neil Austin in action against Mansfield Town. Picture by FRANK REID
Neil Austin in action against Mansfield Town. Picture by FRANK REID

RIGHT-back, left-back, centre-half. Where next for Neil Austin? In goal?

Hartlepool United’s stand-in skipper started the season in his preferred number two slot before moving to the left side following the arrival of Michael Duckworth.

And with Jack Baldwin suspended for Tuesday night’s Johnstone’s Paints Trophy tie at Sheffield United and Sam Collins out with knee trouble, Pools boss Colin Cooper asked Austin to join Christian Burgess in the heart of the defence.

“If anything happened to Scott I’d be delighted to put the gloves on,” laughed the 32-year-old.

“We’ll leave Scott in goal!

“I played centre-back quite a bit when I was younger, not so much in recent years.

“But I’m more than happy to go in there if the gaffer needs me.

“I started right back but then Mikey Duckworth’s come in and he’s been exceptional.

“Then I was moved to left-back where I am more than comfortable.

“And then to centre-half on Tuesday.

“I’m more than happy wherever the manager plays me, I’ve formed a good partnership down the left with Jack Compton, whose very attacking-minded and now with Andy Monkhouse last week at Mansfield.”

Wherever he plays tomorrow, Austin is hoping Pools can pull off a repeat of last week’s League Two success at Mansfield.

“Everyone’s buzzing at the moment,” said Austin.

“We’ve had a great week so far and it would be absolutely unbelievable if we could go to Exeter and get a result.

“Exeter are sitting in third, which Mansfield were, so hopefully that could be a god omen.

“But if we could get another result that would just top off a great week.”

Austin could well feature again at centre-half again at St James’s Park tomorrow.

Cooper has selection options in defence and midfield and could keep faith with the side which showed great resilience to win at Bramall Lane in the cup.

The Pools boss began his own career at full-back but ended it in central defence, despite being ‘only’ 5ft 10in.

Cooper therefore had no qualms about moving fellow 5ft 10in Austin into the centre of defence and he was rewarded with a fine display.

“I wasn’t worried about Neil Austin,” Cooper told SportMail.

“He likes the idea of being a centre-back and as you get older, whether you have played full-back all through your career or whatever, you do naturally see yourself sliding inside.

“I would say Neil is a similar person to myself and whether you are 6ft 3in or not, he will compete with anybody.

“He reads the game very well and I think when you get to 30 and 30 plus, trawling up and down the touchline isn’t something you maybe want to do but it is something he might have to do a little bit more this season yet.

“He is a good defender and likes the art of defending.

“I keep saying to him that I think, with all due respect, that players in this team can get better and I don’t care whether you are 17 or 36.

“You can get better if you want to get better.

“I would like to think I was still learning the art of defending when I was 36 or 37 and Neil will continue to do that.”