Hartlepool Utd’s Sam Collins is just enjoying playing in play-off run-in

Sam Collins in action against Bristol Rovers. Picture by FRANK REID
Sam Collins in action against Bristol Rovers. Picture by FRANK REID

IF Hartlepool United can squeeze into the play-offs this season, what a chapter that could be late on in a Sam Collins book?

The centre-half looked set for a long season with his backside planted firmly on the substitutes bench.

Boss Colin Cooper was honest enough to tell the Yorkshireman that Jack Baldwin and Christian Burgess was his first-choice central defensive pairing.

Collins did not mope – he acted not only as a mentor to the ‘Bs’, he began assisting with the coaching of the reserve team.

But since Baldwin’s transfer deadline night move to Peterborough, the 36-year-old has been back in the firing line – and he loves it.

While youngster Brad Walker was many people’s man of the match last Saturday, Collins was given the official accolade.

For all the brilliance of Walker, who could argue with the choice of Big Sam, who was a pro before the Billingham talent was out of nappies.

And not only is Collins back in the starting XI, he’s leading the side again following Neil Austin’s unfortunate absence and Antony Sweeney’s continued stay on the bench.

The evergreen defender says Pools have nothing to lose at Oxford tonight and they will keep striving for a place in the top seven.

“I feel all right, I’m just enjoying playing more than anything,” he told SportMail.

“I just want to keep it going.

“The most important thing is that we keep doing well and keep getting the wins.

“If we stay hard to beat and keep clean sheets, we will, as the gaffer rightly points out, create chances at the other end.

“Oxford is going to be a hard test for us.

“They are a strong team and were very good when they played at the Vic.

“But they’ve hit a bit of a sticky run, so we’ve got to go down there and continue the sort of football we played last week.

“If we can do that, it could get us three points closer to them and nearer the play-offs.

“That would give us everything to play for, especially with games to follow against Mansfield and Cheltenham at home where we are different class at the moment.

“We need to try to keep winning.

“As the gaffer said the other day, there is no real pressure now – we can just go out and play with freedom.

“If we do that, we are a dangerous team because of the talent we’ve got.

“We have nothing to fear – we’ve got to go out and play and see where it takes us by the end of the season.

“We’ll take it one game at a time, starting with Oxford.

“We’ll look to keep being strong and use our talent. If we can get a result it would set us up nicely for Tuesday.”

Collins has enjoyed his partnership with Burgess which has brought six clean sheets.

He does not even mind being the experienced hand in the old cop/ young cop combination.

“Christian is a good player,” Collins said.

“He’s getting better and better all the time.

“He’s a young lad, but first and foremost, he’s excellent – he’ll go on to bigger and better things.

“This is a good grounding for him, playing League Two football, and I hope I’m a help to him.

“When I was out of the team I tried to help Christian and Jack with bits of advice from what I’ve learned over a long career.

“They have ability, they just need that bit of experience and I’ve looked to pass that on to them.

“Jack’s obviously moved on to Peterborough but Christian is still here and doing really well.”

Collins though is quick to point out that the clean sheets is more than just the central-defensive pairing.

“It’s not just about me and him,” he explained, “It’s about us as a group, defending well as a team.

“That’s what we’ve done.”