JOHN Hughes will be forced to shuffle his backline when Hartlepool United bid for their first win in 22 matches this weekend.
The Scot will be without the suspended Jack Baldwin and groin-victim Evan Horwood for Saturday’s visit of Portsmouth, while Neil Austin serves the last of his four-game ban.
Hughes admits he has no qualms about handing teenager Darren Holden a recall at left-back in place of Horwood, but he is still sweating on the fitness of Peter Hartley.
The centre-back – skipper in Hughes’ first three matches in charge – has missed the last two following a bout of conjunctivitis.
It is hoped he will return to full training this week and be passed fit for the League One clash with Pompey.
“We’re hoping Peter is back training and okay for the weekend,” Hughes explained.
“It was the sweat that was going in his eyes and it was setting him right back, that’s why he missed Saturday’s game at MK Dons.
“Peter is a good character and the type of boy who really cares, I picked up on that straight away.
“It will be good to have him back available.”
Should Hartley prove his fitness then he will come in for Baldwin and will resume his centre-back partnership with Sam Collins.
Baldwin picked up his fifth booking of the campaign during the 1-0 defeat at stadium:MK, and Hughes is ruing his absence.
“We’re going to miss Jack,” he said, “He’s been very good.
“It’s easy to see why people have compared him to Alan Hansen.
“His booking was disappointing, but in today’s game if you go to ground and show studs then it’s a booking.”
Meanwhile, the loss of Horwood has also come as a blow to the Pools boss.
“Evan tweaked his groin which is very disappointing because he was different class last week (against Stevenage),” said Hughes.
“We were looking for more of the same, so it was a blow to lose him after a few minutes.
“But I had no qualms or hesitation in putting young Darren on.
“He’s a great prospect. He’s got great pace.
“When he acknowledges himself that he’s a first-team regular then he’ll get better for it.”
Jordan Richards is likely to complete Hughes’ back four.
“Jordan has real quality on the ball,” said the Pools chief.
“He’s another of the younger lads who is comfortable in possession and that’s good for the way I want to play.”