Jack Baldwin set for run in side as Neale Cooper likens starlet to Alan Hansen

Jack Baldwin plays the ball up field. Picture by FRANK REID
Jack Baldwin plays the ball up field. Picture by FRANK REID

NEALE Cooper has likened Jack Baldwin to a young Alan Hansen – and now the teenage starlet is set for an extended run at the heart of the Hartlepool United backline.

The 18-year-old appeared at centre-half for the first time at senior level during Saturday’s goalless draw at Walsall following a pre-match calf injury to Sam Collins, a problem likely to keep him sidelined for several weeks.

And Baldwin was that impressive his manager thought it apt to draw comparison with Liverpool and Scotland legend Hansen, a defender renowned for his unflappable persona and cultured playing style.

“To me he’s like a young Alan Hansen type of player,” Cooper told SportMail.

“It’s just the way he reads the game and everything looks so composed – headers, clearances, the lot.

“He just makes time for himself and that is a good ability to have. He’s got good energy and is comfortable on the ball so can play in midfield.

“But to come in like he did at the weekend and play a different position which just 20 minutes’ notice, I thought he was tremendous for his age.

“I feel that will be the position he ends up playing for the club and he was immense on Saturday.”

Cooper himself was a player who made the reverse transition from centre-back to defensive midfielder under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen.

And he observed: “I used to be a cultured centre-back until Fergie turned me into a destroyer.

“I couldn’t get a game at centre-half – Alex McLeish and Willie Miller were playing there – so I became an assassin in midfield.

“But from what I’ve seen of Jack I think he’s a very good centre-half and that will be his position.”

He went on: “When I first came back here in December people told me a lot about him.

“He found it a bit hard when I first came in but that’s okay because that’s the sort of age group he is.

“You play a few games then you have to be taken out – that’s not a punishment, it’s about learning.”