JOHN Hughes has already identified Jack Baldwin as a potential “superstar” - with the teenager set for a recall at Walsall tomorrow.
The 19-year-old was taken out of the side by caretaker boss Micky Barron in the wake of the 6-1 FA Cup defeat at Chesterfield, this having been one of the team’s star performers despite their slide towards the bottom of the table.
Baldwin was a late substitute during the midweek defeat to Oldham Athletic and it was his handball which led to the penalty from which the visitors nicked a 2-1 win.
But, with Neil Austin facing a four-game ban following his red card against The Latics, it looks likely that Baldwin will deputise at right-back between now and Christmas.
“Jack could possibly be selected for Saturday and hopefully he’ll go out there and be man-of-the-match,” Hughes told SportMail when asked about the youngster.
“He’s got to put that mistake to the back of his mind.
“I’ve come across a lot of young kids and my instant assessment of Jack is that he plays the game with a great enthusiasm.
“I hope he shows a strength of character to put that mistake to one side and say ‘give me that starting jersey’.
“If he has then he could go right to the top, play for Hartlepool for a few years and become the captain and then who knows?
“He’s working with a manager who will cuddle him but also demand of him.
“If you work with youngsters like him and nurture them then you could have a superstar.
“I know he suffered at Chesterfield and hasn’t got back to that top form yet but I think he’ll be a top player and I like what I’ve seen.”
Baldwin is likely to be one of two changes for the trip to the West Midlands.
Simon Walton injured his hamstring on Tuesday and Andy Monkhouse is set to come into the midfield.
Meanwhile, the news that Austin has been hit with a four-game suspension (a second red card of the season invokes an extra game) is a bitter blow for Hughes who will be without the Yorkshireman until Boxing Day.
“It’s a massive blow being without Aussie,” said the Pools boss.
“He’s a proper professional who looks after himself.
“I was saying in the dugout in the first half on Tuesday that he was doing well and was dealing with everything.
“He’s been there and done it.
“He’s going to be a big, big miss.
“But it was a red card and Aussie should know better.
“Referees are under pressure and as soon as you leave the ground it’s a red card.
“No complaints over that, we just hope Aussie learns from that.”
POOLS (probable): Flinders; Baldwin, Collins, Hartley, Horwood; Murray, Humphreys, Monkhouse; Sweeney, Franks; Howard. Subs: McHugh, Richards, Noble, Wyke, Poole, Luscombe, Holden