8:00am Saturday 2nd February 2013
By Nick Loughlin
TWELVE months ago and Luke James was the name on everyone's lips at Hartlepool United.
Two goals against Carlisle in a brilliant individual display as he tormented giant defender Lubo Michalik had the scouts flocking to Victoria Park.
More than 20 were there for his next display as Pools took on Bournemouth.
But his performances tailed off, the initial burst he brought to the team was short-lived as a succession of injuries, suffered from growing pains as his body developed, hampered his progress.
The talent and enthusiasm in his game remains and, in John Hughes, he has a coach hoping to nurture and encourage his ability.
James, now 18, scored for the reserves in midweek and did the job Hughes asked for when appearing as a second-half substitute last weekend at Portsmouth.
Hughes is wary of overusing James in Pools' current predicament and admitted: "Luke has a massive future in the game, he has something a lot don't have - natural enthusiasm and that's not a given, trust me.
"He has a spring in his step, an energy about him and we have to protect him and look after him.
"I really worry about too much expectation level on him, which could affect him. We will give him bits here and there, let him look at the game, educate him and let him become a better footballer.
"Keep his feet on the ground, let him develop and keep that enthusiasm he has.
"It makes him what he is. He wants to be a grafter. He has a part to play in and around the first team, but don't turn him into something he isn't yet - there's a couple of years learning in him yet before he's a first-team regular.''
James has one goal to his name this season, scoring Pools' only home win this campaign against Scunthorpe in September.
He's had regular substitute appearances for Hughes of late and the manager admitted: "You have to be guarded so he's not built up into something and I've seen that happen to many players.
"Keep kicking his backside to keep him grounded and he will be better for it. He has good values and principles.
"He still has a lot to learn, he wants to learn and asks questions all the time. Right now I am very guarded about ruining him with expectations - his time will come.
"And then when he gets his chance, like he did last Saturday, what he did for the team he could be proud of. We were winning at the time 2-1, and we wanted his pace up front to get in behind them and turn their defence. He will chase big centre-halves, close down goalkeepers and be a nuisance.
"He plays without fear - I was talking to my mate John Collins at Livingston about players, some of the young ones I know.
"There's one there the same as Luke, works hard, runs all day, works his backside off, doesn't have respect for who he is playing.
"John said that since the kid started thinking about it too much he's not the player he was. It's about being natural.''
Pools have raked in seven points from their last three away games, but have a pitiful record of only six points from a possible 39 this season.
It's a record Hughes insists has to change today against Notts County.
"We are not getting carried away - but it was a job well done last weekend,'' he said. "We keep focus on what is required, with 16 cup finals and our aim is back to back wins. Get that, and I feel, everyone will start to get going - confidence and momentum will fly right through the club.
"We are really focusing on trying to keep that starting XI so it keeps turning it out, then we get injuries and guys who are waiting for an opportunity have come in and done exceptionally well.
"Things are coming to fruition. Jack come in and scored, Poolie come in and scored, Aussie returned and was different class - I'm delighted with their impact and it's got to be the same all the way.
"It's about a team, we encourage each other to try and win games.
"This is about putting a run together and you need that focus.''
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