CROWD favourite Gordon Watson takes another step on the long road back to full fitness this afternoon.

Watson, who made a brief substitute appearance in Hartlepool United's draw with Bury last Friday, will start for the second string today.

Kevin Sheedy's side meet Notts County at Victoria Park and while Watson will bid to step up his fitness after suffering a broken leg last September, boss Mike Newell admits the striker is still short of a starting spot.

He will be on the bench for Saturday's home game with Southend and Newell said: "It's been a long time, a long, drawn out affair for him.

"He's looking better, but he will tell you he's not fit yet. Looking at him and anyone who knows anything about the game will tell you he is not fit.

"It will be another week or so before he is capable of 20 minutes or so and a week later when he will be able to start games.''

He added: "He needs games, because when you have a serious injury, which he has had, it is difficult coming back and it gets harder as you get older.

"Playing games and getting down to some hard work in training is what he needs to do now. He has had a setback, but I think he has now come through his bad period.

"You will get hiccups on the way back and it is all about staying 100 per cent focused.

"Scoring a goal gives you a little confidence, makes you feel sharper, so hopefully that will happen."

Whitby-born Ashley Lyth, a defender on trial from Leicester, will play this afternoon.

He moved to the First Division club for £100,000 from Scarborough in 2001.

Pool are now playing their reserve games at Victoria Park.

* Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale is determined to prove he can lead the troubled club ''in difficult times as well as good.''

Ridsdale has faced a tortuous last few months, coming under fire from fans angry at the departures of several star names this season, including the likes of Rio Ferdinand Jonathan Woodgate and Robbie Fowler.

Many supporters believe Ridsdale should resign given what they consider to be his financial mismanagement of the Elland Road club, which last summer saw overall debts soar to a staggering £77.8m. Leeds' interim figures for the year ended 2002 are due out later this month, when it is expected significant inroads will have been made into such a crippling figure, without taking into account the £15m made on Woodgate and Fowler.

Ridsdale has vowed to weather the storm and remain in charge, even though cuts are being made across the board behind the scenes at the club in a bid to save a further £3m per year, with operations director David Spencer departing on Friday. ''For five years at this football club we've had some enjoyable football, with two European semi-finals and top five (in the Premiership) every year,'' stated Ridsdale.

''If you take the club's history, there aren't too many periods in it where we've repeated that sustained five-year period. We've just had nine months of difficult times.

''Now if every management team in the first period of difficulty walked away, you'd have management leaving every day of the week."

Read more about Hartlepool here.