Walton gets the backing of Hughes to make his mark

RUN IN THE TEAM: Simon Walton

RUN IN THE TEAM: Simon Walton

First published in Sport The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

JOHN Hughes has done it himself as a player and now he hopes Simon Walton can do the same and win over the boo-boys.

The midfielder signed for Hartlepool United last summer, but a swathe of supporters who have been critical of the ex-Leeds United man.

A series of disappointing performances in central midfield, in what has been an horrific season for the club, have not endeared Walton and co to supporters.

But he has been given a chance by Hughes to stamp his mark on the team and, after being dogged by a hamstring strain, has started the last three games.

He impressed in two of those outings, both away from Victoria Park at Sheffield United and Shrewsbury.

At Victoria Park, he was forced off with injury against Preston and Hughes will start him against Colchester on Saturday.

"It's up to Simon to show strength of character and win people over,'' reflected Hughes. "I can only go by experience and I went to Falkirk from Swansea City and was a boo boy for about six months. I was a centre-forward at the time and never been a centre-forward in my life, but I dropped back and won them over.

"I became one of the heroes with my attitude and commitment and love for the club. Simon has to embrace it and endorse it and show he wants to play a part. He's been doing it in training - and in games in recent weeks as well.''

Walton has sat in front of the back four of late, and Paul Murray is likely to leave this month as a result as Hughes looks to next season.

The manager added: "Simon is one of the best players at the club on the ball and the games will be doing him good, we hope he can get over this hamstring problem he's had.

"It suits him playing in front of the centre-halves, screening and spraying passes. When we took him off against Preston and Shrewsbury we lost our way a bit so that's something I need to look at.''

Walton was captain, top scorer and player of the year at Plymouth last season before he asked to be released to be back in the north of the country.

And Hughes said: "There's still bits and pieces that when we play at home he's not a fans' favourite and he has to overcome that.

"If we play a three-man midfield we need him on the ball and he can spray diagonal balls to get us going. He could do with getting a little bit fitter and I'm hoping he can and I'm watching in training closely.

"He needs to stay injury free and stay fit. I'm helping him, I'm giving him a run in the team and a chance.

"If a manager was doing that to me then I'm in there and it would make me want to keep the jersey.''

Pools have asked for supporters to help clear Victoria Park to try and ensure Saturday's game goes ahead. The pitch is currently protected from frost by a three-inch layer of snow, but the stands and terraces need to be cleared. The club has also approached the council for assistance.

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