HARTLEPOOL UNITED have received a huge injury boost with key midfielder Anthony Mancini in line to return before Christmas.

Mancini impressed for Pools early in the season before suffering a major hamstring injury in September that was expected to sideline him for the rest of the season.

Mancini, who joined Pools in the summer, returned to France for treatment and John Askey this week discovered that the midfielder is well ahead of schedule and could be back as soon as early December. Such was Askey's surprise at Mancini being so far ahead of the initial timeline, he joked that the 22-year-old must have been to Lourdes for treatment.

And in a welcome second boost for Askey, Callum Cooke is also in line to return sooner than expected. Cooke suffered what was initially feared to be a serious ankle injury and wasn't expected to be back in action until next year, but Askey says he's now due back at the end of next month.

Providing an update on both players ahead of Hartlepool's home game against Eastleigh on Saturday, Askey said: "We've had results back on Anthony. He's been having treatment in France and we're quite hopeful for the beginning of December which was a big surprise for us.

"I think we'll send everybody we have to France. Whether he's been going to Lourdes I don't know!"

When it was put to him by BBC Tees that Mancini's progress is miraculous, Askey said: "It is!

"I'm just hoping he hasn't pushed back too soon. That's what you have to be careful of, the last thing you want is players rushing back and then having ongoing injuries. We have to be careful. We want our best players back but not at a cost.

"Callum we're hoping will be end of November. If we can get them two back before Christmas it gives us a big boost.

Askey's immediate focus is on getting Pools back to winning ways after three successive defeats. The midweek defeat at Boreham Wood saw Pools slip to 10th in the table but the manager insists performances have deserved more. He admits Pools "desperately need" a win against Eastleigh on Saturday (3pm).

He said: "We can take confidence from the way we played on Wednesday, on another day we'd win the game.

"We just have to realise if we play like that we'll start to win games.

"Eastleigh will come into the game really confident but for us it's another opportunity to get ourselves going again. We desperately need it. It's another big game for us."