ONSIDE: Time for Hartlepool United to unleash Luke James

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HARTLEPOOL United are drinking in the last chance saloon.

HARTLEPOOL United are drinking in the last chance saloon.

No doubt about it, tonight’s game against Oldham Athletic is the biggest game of the season.

Still six points adrift with just eight games to go, third-bottom Pools are facing relegation rivals Oldham, who are just one place above but with two games in hand.

The game really is a must win.

The blow of Saturday’s defeat to Coventry City was lessened by other results going our way, but if we lose tonight then League Two next season seems inevitable.

The biggest problem facing Pools is the lack of a goalscoring threat – four games without a goal.

That’s more than six hours without the opposition goalkeeper having to pick the ball out of his net.

A worrying statistic when you are fighting for your lives with games running out fast.

So, what are John Hughes’ options up front?

In truth, very little. Charlie Wyke looks shattered and a shadow of the player from a month or so ago.

Steve Howard is coming towards the end of his career and – Sheffield United away aside when he bagged a brace - hasn’t looked a goal threat.

James Poole looks the most likely to trouble the keeper but has been pushed out wide recently to accommodate the formation.

Pools do have one goal threat but he has been sat on the bench for the past couple of weeks – Luke James.

Hughes is reluctant to ask a “boy to do a man’s job”, as he has stated in the Mail’s sports pages recently.

It is understandable that he is wary of putting too much pressure on the teenager’s shoulders, but Pools are scrapping for their League One status.

To me it seems a waste to leave him on the bench and increasingly frustrating given our current situation and chronic inability to score.

What do we have to lose? Well the way things are going, our League One status.

Even if Hughes doesn’t start with James, surely it is worth bringing him on for longer than ten minutes at the end of a game?

Meanwhile, on a more positive note, congratulations to both John Hughes and Peter Hartley for their respective manager and player of the month awards for February.

Both well deserved and let’s hope they are picking up the gongs for March and April too.

Here’s hoping.

- Richard Mennear

@RMennearHMail