HARTLEPOOL United are set for an injury boost with Michael Duckworth expected to return to training tomorrow.
But there is more frustrating news for sidelined defender Neil Austin, whose toe problem continues to cause concern.
Right-back Duckworth has been out of the first-team picture since suffering soft tissue damage in the 2-0 defeat at Northampton at the end of February.
But manager Colin Cooper says the 21-year-old could make his long-awaited return to training tomorrow at Pools’ Maiden Castle base - although he insists he won’t be rushing him back.
There is, however, more frustrating news for full-back Austin who is set to see another specialist about the injury.
No time-scale has been put on a return for Austin, who has already had two X-rays, assessments and orthotics fitted in a bid to relieve the pressure on his toe.
Cooper though is pleased with the progress of Duckworth but isn’t putting any extra pressure on the German-born defender, saying he will be “delighted” if he gets half-a-dozen matches before the end of the season.
There was initial fears Duckworth, who had only just returned from a double hernia operation, had broken his leg but scans revealed soft tissue damage on his left leg.
“I think Saturday [at home to Bristol Rovers] will be too soon,” said Cooper.
“He may only be lucky to get on the training ground on Friday.
“We have another reserve game next week against Mansfield, which we may get Michael
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involved in but we will see as it may be too early.
“After last time I certainly don’t want to rush him back.
“If I get anything out of Michael before the end of the season, after going through what he has been through the poor lad, then I will be delighted.
“If he can get half a dozen, seven or eight games then that will be great.
“But let’s not disregard Jordan Richards who has done a smashing job after getting his opportunity.”
Battling Austin hasn’t played since going off in the second-half of the goalless draw at home to Scunthorpe United at the start of February after injuring himself while making a block.
The Pools medical department, led by physio Ian Gallagher, are taking it day-by-day with Austin, whose wife is expecting.
Cooper added: “We have had Neil down to see another specialist, who was not happy with something he has seen on one of the X-rays.
“We have double checked that and Neil will this week be having another scan and another assessment.
“Hopefully it is not too bad but it is frustrating for Neil.
“It is the not knowing, we have had him X-rayed twice, had some orthotics fitted to take the pressure off his toe but nothing seems to be helping him improve at this moment in time.
“As Buster does, he has gone back and re-evaluated and the one specialist Neil went to see has seen something different to somebody else, so we are going to explore that.
“If that helps Neil then brilliant.”
Cooper added: “It is a really frustrating injury and you go back to when he did it, it is a long while for something that people may think as trivial as a toe, but for him it is bloody frustrating.
“He could do with having a regular week, as his wife is due anytime now.
“Rather than being in for getting treatment day in, day out, Neil could do with having a couple of days rest so he can be at home in case his wife gives birth.”