JORDAN Richards will tonight pull on the blue and white stripes of Hartlepool United for the first time since the premature end to his “run” in the League Two side.
Richards will play for the reserves this evening in their Central League Cup game against Rotherham United at Bedford Terrace (kick-off 7pm).
It could be an important evening for the 20-year-old at Billingham Town’s ground, not just because he will want a positive response following his third-minute sending off at Fleetwood Town last month.
The defender could be in line for an earlier-than-expected return to League Two action this weekend, if skipper Neil Austin is ruled out for the trip to Dagenham & Redbridge.
Austin is hobbling around the Maiden Castle training complex after injuring his foot in the 0-0 draw with Scunthorpe at the weekend.
The veteran defender’s ailment does not sound too dramatic, a bruised big toe, but it could keep him out, though assistant boss Craig Hignett remains hopeful the 30-year-old will be all right.
“It is very sore at the moment and he’s walking with a limp,” he said.
“We feared it might have been ligament damage but we’ve checked him out and it’s just a nasty bruise.
“It’s sore to touch and it’s not a very nice colour, but he’s got plenty of padding on, so we’ll see how he is by Friday.”
Richards would be the natural choice at right-back should Austin succumb to injury.
The Sunderland-born defender has a little bit of ground to make up fitness-wise after his three-match ban.
Richards was shown a straight red card at Highbury by referee James Adcock after sending Fleetwood star Jeff Hughes flying into the air with a dangerous tackle.
Boss Colin Cooper told SportMail Richards had “blown his chance” after being earmarked for a long run in the side following the hernia op for MichaelDuckworth.
Hignett says he has shown plenty of remorse since the incident and is looking forward to seeing him back in the field.
“He needs the match tonight after missing three games with his suspension,” said Hignett.
“Jordan has been good in training, he’s a great lad and a really bright character to have around the place.
“He was devastated by what happened at Fleetwood - he made a mistake but he’ll learn from it I’m sure.
“Jordan has come back well, he’s a diligent trainer and good pro and he’s put the work in.
“But he needs some game-time, a little top up fitness wise for the games he’s missed.”
Richards will almost certainly be the most senior figure in action at Bedford Terrace against the Millers second string.
Fellow young pros Dan Jones and Josh Rowbotham will line up alongside him at the back, but otherwise it will largely be a youth team.
Jordan Deacey, on trial from Bradford Park Avenue, is also in the squad.
“It will be a young side,” added Hignett. “Rotherham are bringing a youthful team so it should make for a good game.”