Nick Powell is poised to return to the Wigan Athletic starting side at Peterborough this weekend.
And boss Paul Cook is hoping his night off in midweek against Northampton – after being substituted half-an-hour into last weekend’s win over Bristol Rovers – has allowed his fitness levels to be fully restored.
It’s a cotton-wool approach Cook has been forced to adopt all season to ensure he gets the maximum out of a player who would probably still be playing in the Premier League had injuries not dogged his career.
“Nick’s at a stage where he gets tested a lot – more than any other player – in terms of muscle strength, hamstring, etc,” revealed Cook.
“For Nick to be playing games, his results must be at a certain level. Last Sunday and Monday, his results were chronically low.
“While he wasn’t injured, we didn’t feel it would be medically right to play him.
“As you can imagine, Nick’s results are all back up to where they should be, and he comes back into the squad and available for selection.”
Cook admits it’s a safety-first policy that has the full backing of the player himself.
“Nick’s been brilliant – he’s happy we’re taking so much time and care over his career,” Cook acknowledged.
“I’m not trying to say other managers haven’t done that, but Nick is only the talent that he is when he’s on the pitch playing football.
“We think a fit Nick Powell can be very influential in us having a good season. An unfit Nick Powell will only lead to different problems.
“If that means he misses games here and there, I don’t have a problem with that.”
One criticism of Powell in the past, from some quarters, has been a perceived mental issue towards playing through the pain barrier – something Cook totally refutes.
“One thing I will say is Nick is fiercely competitive,” insisted Cook. “When he goes on to the pitch to play football, he is every bit as competitive as Sammy Morsy.
“He is right up there with the lads who cannot stand losing the most.
“You look at his stats during the game, for 60-70 minutes, and they are as good as anyone’s – in terms of distance covered, sprints, etc.
“I have no question marks about Nick in anything other than being medically right to play 90 minutes.
“At his age, with the ability he has, I just want to see him playing back-to-back games without a problem.”
While the Northampton game in midweek was the first time Powell has been missing from the starting XI in the league, he has failed to last the course in any of the other fixtures.
And Cook admits that’s led to some tough decisions for his management team.
“At Shrewsbury, I genuinely didn’t want to take him off the pitch,” the Latics chief recognised.
“We’ve got 1,500-1,600 fans there, we’re getting beat 1-0, and you’re probably taking off the lad most likely to get you a goal.
“But if I’d left him on, and he gets injured in that last 15 minutes, and we end up losing him for a number of weeks...those are the decisions you have to take – whether they are popular or not.
“If I was a fan stood behind the goal, I wouldn’t be happy seeing Nick Powell coming off the field!
“But we try and be as honest as we can, so the supporters can at least understand – if not agree – where we’re coming from.”