Hartlepool United’s Neale Cooper won’t push young guns too soon

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HARTLEPOOL United boss Neale Cooper is confident Lewis Hawkins and Josh Rowbotham will forge successful careers at Victoria Park – but is mindful of pitching them into his first team too soon, writes CRAIG HOPE.

The pair, both just 18 years old, were handed surprise starts for Saturday’s League One trip to Walsall, with Pools stretched to the limit because of a mounting injury list.

Senior debutant Hawkins played for an hour, while Rowbotham, thrown an 11th-hour start following the pre-match withdrawal of Sam Collins, made way 12 minutes from time.

The Academy duo certainly did not let themselves down and played a combative part in securing a goalless draw.

“Josh and Lewis can have an impact in the long term, for sure,” Cooper said today as the hunt for emergency-loan reinforcements intensified.

“Saturday was a learning curve for them. It’s hard to come in and make that step up from reserve-team football, but they did well to handle the pressure.

“It was a big ask of them to step up when they haven’t been involved all season. They did some good things, other things they need to be sharper with.

“But these are boys for the future. They’ve had a taste and hopefully they’ll learn from it.”

Pools will be forced to field a young reserve side against Middlesbrough at Victoria Park tonight (7pm). Ex-Sunderland winger Nathan Luscombe is likely to get another chance to prove his fitness.