MICHAEL DUCKWORTH, the Hartlepool United defender is facing up to six weeks on the sidelines.

The right-back, who has impressed since stepping up from Bradford Park Avenue after signing at the start of the season, has had a double hernia operation.

He missed last weekend’s home defeat to Rochdale, but the injury has proved worse than Pools anticipated.

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Jordan Richards, who replaced Duckworth on Saturday, has just returned after the same operation and he can expect a run in the side.

Duckworth made 27 consecutive appearances for Pools since stepping up from the Conference North.

“It’s unfortunate for Michael – he’s been on such good form and he has been playing a lot of games and probably has had to stretch his body to the limit,” admitted boss Colin Cooper.

“I think this has probably been a while in coming, he could not have played. He tried a fitness test on Friday and couldn’t kick a ball by any distance and he was feeling his groin, twisting and turning a bit.

“If Michael hadn’t come in and made such an impact, then Jordan would probably have played the majority of the season by now.

“He comes in and gives his all every day and wants to get better and improve. I have no qualms about throwing him in.

“With Michael and James Poole – he tweaked a hamstring earlier in the week and he’s done the other one in the game – they will be assessed.

Maybe James’ body has hit the limit. How many consecutive games have they players in their young careers?

“This is six months into a tough season and maybe their bodies are reacting to what we are asking them to do.’’ Pools don’t have the technology to track players’ levels during training and have a system in place that relies on an individual to rate their levels of fatigue and fitness.

Cooper added: “Michael Duckworth played over 90 per cent of Bradford Park Avenue’s games last season but only trained once a week for it.

“We don’t have a dedicated sports science department, so we try and track our loads with the scale we use. Now we ask for an honest score about how they feel on a scale of one to ten. Easy or hard?

“We get some results back from it on the scale and we do that and it might not show up they are overloaded, but when you start to get a niggle it suggests the bodies are being pushed to the limit.

“While we want players fit and available we have to be careful.”

One of Duckworth’s former team-mates made a scoring appearance for Pools reserves last night in their 5-2 win over Scunthorpe.

Central midfielder Jordan Deacey opened the scoring before further goals from Josh Nearney, Ben Wignall (2) and Rhys Harbottle.