FACING up to rugged League One centre-backs does not intimidate Tranmere’s teenage striker Cole Stockton.
The muscular 18-year-old, who is lined up to spearhead the leaders’ attack at Leyton Orient tomorrow, had to toughen up fast in the rough and tumble environment of non-League football last season.
Stockton played two loan spells with Blue Square Bet League North Division club Vauxhall Motors, scoring four goals in eight games.
The youngster from Rainhill credits the experience with helping him to stand up to the demands of first-team football with Tranmere in 22 appearances this season, most of them as a substitute.
Stockton said: “Going to Vauxhall Motors last season really toughened me up.
“I will always remember my first game for them.
“I went up for a challenge and got elbowed in the mouth. I thought to myself: I’ve started in the real game now.
“It was a good experience. It made me more resilient as a player.
“I got used to playing with men instead of lads my own age in the youth team and reserves and saw the tough side of football.”
Stockton is in line to replace the suspended Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro at Brisbane Road, unless manager Ronnie Moore scores a success today in his search for an experienced striker in the loan market.
Moore says he has faith in the youngster, who impressed in 18 substitute appearances and four starts yielding four goals.
He signed a first year contract with Tranmere last April and a new deal, last week, which ties him to the club until the summer of 2015.
Stockton said: “Things have happened quicker than I expected.
“At the start of the season I did not think I would be around the first-team as much as I have been. I’m pleased with how it’s going.
“I’m developing as a player and it is step by step with me. It takes a bit of time, but once something clicks, it sticks.”
He added: “I know I have to be patient. I’m still a kid, learning everyday.
“Because I’m young I’m not playing all the time and I have to get used to it while I gain some experience.”
Even so, Stockton’s scoring appearance in front of the live TV cameras in an FA Cup tie at Braintree Town in November drew some admiring words from broadcast pundits Gordon Strachan and John Aldridge.
Stockton said: “That was a bit strange. During the game, I did not feel as though I’d played as well as people said afterwards. It was encouraging and goals give you confidence.
“I’m getting help from the more experienced players at the club, especially Andy Robinson, who is always advising me on what to do in and around the box.
“I’m playing in a squad that is doing well. When I’m playing and training I am working with good players.
“Getting used to the tempo after stepping up from the reserves and the youth teams take some getting used to but I feel as if I am getting there.”