Adam Crookes is in contention for a place in Port Vale’s squad at home to Scunthorpe after coming through training this week.
The 22-year-old left-sided defender has been out of action since suffering a hip injury in October but his return is timely for Vale, who expect to be without Shaun Brisley for at least the next four to five weeks.
Crookes can play at left back or in central defence so offers welcome cover in a squad hoping to clinch a place in the play-off spots over the final 11 games of the season.
Nathan Smith is set to move across to central defence in place of Brisley, with James Gibbons returning to the side at right back.
Speaking at his Friday morning press conference, manager John Askey praised Brisley, saying: “Shaun is struggling. He has done his knee ligaments so could be out for a bit. That is a shame because he has come in and done really well, and results have gone for us as well.
“It is a shame to lose him because he added competition at centre back. He’s not even 30 yet, he still has plenty of football left in him and he has shown that he is more than capable at this level.
“Had he carried on until the end of the season, there was no reason why he couldn’t have kept his place, had he kept on doing what he was doing. He just needs to be assessed now and hopefully we can get him back before the end of the season.
“Nathan has had a good season, it was great Shaun had come in and done so well. We are lucky that also Adam Crookes is back fit so, if anything happened to any of the other centre halves, at least we have Adam who can slot in there now.”
Askey rates Scunthorpe highly, even though they have performed below most expectations this season and are in 17th.
That said, they were worthy winners when they beat the Vale 2-1 in November.
Paul Hurst has lost his job since then with experienced coach Russ Wilcox taking charge.
Askey said: “They have improved under Russ Wilcox. At the start of the season you would have said they would be one of the promotion favourites. They have spent a lot of money, they have some good players there, and they have picked up.
“So, it will be a tough fixture. We know we have to really play well if we want to beat them.”