HARTLEPOOL United’s creative players have been handed a challenge: Fill Luke Williams’ boots.
The return of Williams to Middlesbrough after a successful loan spell at Pools has left a gap in the advanced positions.
Pools are just outside the Sky Bet League Two play-off places after a four-match unbeaten run, inspired, to a large degree by the 20-year-old livewire.
Boss Colin Cooper and assistant manager are looking for a player to seize the chance.
On paper, it looks like a two-horse race between James Poole, who’d inspired the club’s initial rise up the table in the autumn, and loan signing Jack Barmby.
It seems, whoever shines on the training ground at Maiden Castle this week, will get the nod for Saturday’s visit of struggling Torquay United to Victoria Park.
“Luke’s been excellent for us and no one can argue about that,” Cooper said.
“The plus point is that the players who might see themselves playing in that sort of position have had chance to look and learn from him.
“It’s not just been in the games Luke has performed.
“Luke does that at Maiden Castle as well.
“Every day he sparkles in training.
“If I was a player, I’d look at him and think ‘he might be only 20 but is he doing someting different to me?’
“‘Can I do something different and become as effective?’.
“James comes into the category for that role and Jack is more than capable of playing in that position.
“I’ve spoken to Warren Joyce, the Manchester United Under 21 coach, and Jack likes to play in that so-called roving number 10 role.
“Pooley’s looked sharp in training.”
Cooper and Hignett have a full week on the training pitch with the players to assess all options.
“We are going to have to look to see which way we are going to go,” added the manager.
Williams has been a revelation for Pools, scoring twice during a loan stint when Boro have been firing blanks in the Championship.
“We wish Luke well and while I’m upset for us to be losing him, I’m pleased for him that he’s going back in their first-team squad,” said Cooper.
“With Luke going back, there’s an opportunity for someone, so can they show me they are worth a place during the week?”
Meanwhile, Pools will continue to assess Michael Duckworth following his injury at Northampton.
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Duckworth was stretchered off at Six fields after damaging his left leg just five minutes into his comeback following an eight-game absence due to surgery on a double hernia.
It was feared the defender had suffered a break but X-rays on the afternoon at Northampton General Hospital found no fractures.
But Pools physio Ian Gallagher says the club will continue their own checks on the 21-year-old.
“He’s in a protective boot and we’ll keep him in that until we have a full diagnosis at which point we can decide the best course of action to bring him back to full fitness,” he said.