Opportunity knocks for youngsters at Hartlepool United - here's who could impress

The kids are alright - or so '˜The Who' once sang.

Monday, 18th June 2018, 2:05 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th June 2018, 2:37 pm
Could Kenton Richardson make his mark in 2018/19?

And such a statement is ringing true at Victoria Park where a clutch of youngsters are hoping to make their mark this season.

Josh Hawkes was a standout performer last season

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With Matthew Bates looking to operate with a streamlined senior squad this season, it’s entirely plausible that we could see a number of Pools’ youngsters given an opportunity during the campaign.

But which of the club’s young crop could make a mark at the Vic?

We’ve picked out some of the youngsters that Bates could call upon in 2018/19:

AARON CUNNINGHAM

Aaron Cunningham was given his marching orders on his debut

Having recovered from a series of ankle problems, Cunningham was handed a first-team debut in Pools’ final home game of 2017/18.

His first team debut didn't quite go to plan with the central midfielder shown a harsh red card for a fierce, but fair, tackle.

Some could have seen this as a blotch on the youngster's record, hampering any future opportunities, but for Bates it had quite the opposite effect.

The Pools’ boss was impressed with Cunningham’s all-action cameo and was insistent that it was an area of his game that he shouldn’t try and subdue.

With the new manager clearly a fan, it may be that Cunningham is handed a more regular role this season.

If he is, expect plenty of energy and enthusiasm in the centre of park - alongside some more crunching tackles.

JOSH HAWKES

While Cunningham’s debut ended in a red card, Hawkes’ first start for Pools ended in far happier circumstances.

Handed a starting place against Bromley in March, the 19-year-old netted the opener in a 2-1 win which aided United’s climb away from relegation.

That goal was the culmination of Hawkes’ progression which saw him sent out on loan spells before he made his first-team breakthrough.

The midfielder didn’t look back once he received that opportunity and became a regular under Bates towards the end of the campaign.

Indeed his performances even caught the eye of a host of football league clubs, including Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Leeds.

If he can continue his progress in the new season then Hawkes could well be a leading light for Pools - and those big teams may come sniffing about again.

RYAN CATTERICK

Although yet to make his first team bow, Catterick will be keen to push last season’s star man Scott Loach for a starting spot this season.

While Loach will undoubtedly be Bates’ first choice come the start of the season - barring any injuries - back-up Catterick will be keen to prove his own worth.

The opportunity to learn from Loach and new goalkeeping coach Ross Turnbull will be invaluable for the youngster and will aid him no end should he be required in 2018/19.

Working with two such vastly-experienced stoppers, who can pass on some valuable lessons, could accelerate his development.

Patience may be the name of the game for Catterick this season - but should an opportunity come he will need to grasp it with both hands.

He may not feature as prominently as Hawkes or Cunningham but, should his time come, his impact could be a strong one.

KENTON RICHARDSON

Handed his first opportunity in Pools’ last season in League Two, Richardson has already showcased his ability at Victoria Park.

His progress in 2017 was hampered by an injury but, having landed a professional deal, he continued to progress last season.

The right-back may have only made seven appearances before another injury - picked up in the home defeat to Maidenhead - but he definitely demonstrated his worth with a number of energetic displays out wide.

One of a handful of players remaining under contract for the new campaign, this could be a make-or-break year for the defender.

Pools often looked fragile at the back last season and if Richardson can stay fit then he could be given an opportunity again this season.

Bates, an ex-defender himself, could also prove a valuable resource if he can pass on his experiences to the youngster.

As long as injuries don’t come back to haunt the teenager again, he has the potential to star at the Vic this campaign.

WHAT ABOUT YOUTH PLAYERS?

While Pools’ first team may have somewhat struggled on the pitch last season, the same criticisms can’t be levied at the club’s younger sides.

The U18s, managed by Ian McGuckin, reached the Third Round of the FA Youth Cup and put up a good fight against a strong Liverpool side - proving that there is plenty of hope for the future of the club.

And this year’s intake of youth players come with good pedigree too.

Coached by former Pools midfielder Antony Sweeney, they won the Football League National Under 16s Cup last season, beating Oxford United in the final.

If their progress cans be continued at U18 level under McGuckin, then it might not be a surprise to see some of the youngsters feature for the first team this season.