INFLUENTIAL Tony Carss looks on course to make a welcome return for Town in their big 2004 kick-off against Doncaster at the McAlpine on Saturday.
The 27-year-old has missed the last four matches because of knee trouble but was being put through a light workout today in readiness for rejoining the full squad for an intensive build-up from tomorrow.
It's marvellous news for manager Peter Jackson and his summer signing from Oldham, expecially as Lee Fowler misses both the Doncaster match and the following trip to Cambridge through suspension.
Carss could be the ideal candidate to slot into his favoured central midfield position alongside the fit-again Jon Worthington against Dave Penney's side as Town bid to extend their unbeaten run to four matches with a third straight win of the holiday period.
"Tony is doing some light work and some kicking today and we fully expect him to join the rest of the lads from tomorrow with a view to being ready for Saturday," confirmed manager Jackson.
"After two games in three days, the lads have had 48 hours off, but we've got sessions planned for tomorrow, Thursday and Friday to prepare for what is a massive game for the club against Doncaster.
"Tony should be able to play a full part in those because in terms of fitness, he has continued to do quite a lot of work while protecting his knee and he seems to be feeling fine, which is great news.
"He has done really well for us when he's played this season, I do rate him very highly and I think we've missed him over these last few matches and particularly the last couple, when we have struggled to get our passing together.
"It's particularly crucial to get him fit for this weekend if we can because of Lee Fowler's suspension, and I know Tony is itching to get back into the action."
Jackson is also hoping Danny Schofield will be available for selection, having responded to treatment since twisting a knee in the warm-up to the Darlington match on Boxing Day.
He remains under treatment from physio Lee Martin, as do defenders Ian Hughes and David Mirfin, who have no chance of making the Doncaster date, when Town are seeking to improve on the 1-1 draw they got at Belle Vue back in August.
"I was extremely disappointed that we didn't win down at Doncaster, particularly after going in front," said Jackson.
"Had we not conceded so early in the second half, I think we might well have won that match, but Doncaster have possibly been the surprise team of our division this time and are looking strong.
"They are extremely difficult to break down and they are quick into the attack, so it's a difficult match and we know we'll have to be on our mettle to beat them."
Paul Scott played as a substitute in that Bank Holiday match at Belle Vue, but he will have to wait a while to get back into action at the moment after suffering a painful ankle injury during the win at Darlington which required a hospital X-ray to check for a possible break.
Scott's left ankle remains quite swollen, but the bruising is coming out and he is under intensive treatment.
Jackson reports that long-term injury victims Jon Newby (knee) and goalkeeper Ian Gray (hand) are making steady progress.
Town had their highest number of Friend for a Fiver vouchers used in Sunday's home clash with Bury - 596 fans taking up the offer of cut-price admission.
Anyone planning to use vouchers for the Doncaster match are asked to buy their tickets before the day of the game, when the ticket office is expected to be extremely busy because of sales for the trip to York on January 24.
The ticket office is open from 9am to noon tomorrow and, after being closed on New Year's Day, it will be doing business from 9-5 on Friday and from 9am on Saturday.