AARON Cunningham has had to wait and be patient. He’s not a young trainee thrown into the Hartlepool United side out of desperation.

The centre-half is 21 years old, but injuries mean he’s only made seven professional starts for his club.

The best of them came on Monday, with the most mature and combative performance as Pools beat Wrexham at Victoria Park.

As part of a back three, the academy graduate did what he does best: defend.

“I enjoyed it in a three, it feels comfortable and solid,’’ he reflected.

“I needed 90 minutes, to prove to myself I can and it’s been frustrating to pick up niggles and not complete games.

“It’s hard being injured and becomes a mental battle and then when you are over it, it’s about staying there.

“For me, getting 90 minutes is important. I’m not that young anymore and I need consecutive games and to come through them as well.

“It’s been so frustrating for me not to get a run of games in my career so far. I need to do everything possible to keep me on the pitch and look after myself.’’

Cunningham was sent off on his Pools debut, against Torquay in April last year, and spent time on loan at Blyth last season to help his development.

He has returned from knee, ankle and calf injuries which have stalled his progress.

Now, he is confident the chance to learn from playing alongside an experienced head can only help his career.

Cunningham admitted: “With someone like Michael Raynes in the same position, it’s important to learn from him on and off the pitch.

“It’s about everything he does to look after himself, prehab to prevent injuries, to make sure I can stay on the pitch.

“I played a bit alongside him in pre-season and I love playing alongside him – an old head in the team. He talks me through games, he will drag me back into position and tell me and I am happy to listen and learn from him every day.

“I want to defend, it’s what I need to do, to be aggressive and win my challenges, but it was a nice bonus to get a shot away on Monday.

“I got forward and it really opened up, no-one expects a centre-half to run through and keep going. Liam Noble was screaming for a pass and I had a shot, but we got a penalty from it.’’