There are plenty of reasons for Sunderland fans to be keeping an eye on Hartlepool as the season progresses - not least because the Black Cats have been linked with a young ‘Pools midfielder, plus we have a young defender on loan at the Victoria Ground this season. Oh, and because the Monkey Hangers will be heading up the A19 to visit South Shields later this month.
We caught up with BBC Tees fan panel member and all-round Hartlepool oracle, Mark Carroll, for a chat.
On Josh Hawkes...
According to the Sunday People, Sunderland and Middlesbrough are keeping tabs on Hartlepool prospect Josh Hawkes.
The 18-year-old made his debut for ‘Pools in February and is considered a decent prospect at Victoria Park as Hartlepool plot a return to the Football League. Deployed as an attacking midfielder, Hawkes was a product of the ‘Boro youth academy before being released as a school boy.
So, what’s he like?
Hawkes has been at Hartlepool for three years and last season signed a professional contract and made a handful of substitute appearances under Dave Jones.
He’s an attacking midfielder who gets goals and has a decent delivery from set-pieces. He played a good part in our pre-season but hasn’t figured in the the first team this term and has spent a month out on loan at Marske United.
On Michael Ledger...
20-year-old Sunderland defender Michael Ledger joined Hartlepool on loan just before the transfer window shut in August and will turn out at Victoria Park for the season.
The Consett-born centre-back has made four appearances in the National League so far.
Hartlepool hadn’t lost a game with him in defence before a niggle ruled him out of their last two - a defeat to Eastleigh and a draw with Woking at the weekend.
Ledger has been very impressive. He was initially paired with another loanee central defender, Keith Watson from St Johnstone, but he got injured in our TV win over Leyton Orient and has missed the last two games with a back problem.
Ledger has come up against all styles of centre-forward in the National League already and I believe he has learned more in the four games he’s played here so far than he would have in Sunderland’s Under-23s.
He’s looked comfortable on the ball and defended well, putting his head and body on the line. Hopefully he’s back fit and ready to play tonight against Barrow.
Michael Ledger spent the latter part of last season at Norwegian side Viking FK, playing 13 games in the Eliteserien and has been on the bench for one senior Sunderland game - February’s 2-2 draw with Liverpool.
On the Shields cup tie...
With plenty of Sunderland fans taking an interest in South Shields to the north and Hartlepool to the south, last night’s FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round draw set up a tantalising tie between the pair to be held at Mariners Park a week on Saturday.
A place in the first round proper awaits the victor with the sides separated by three divisions. The tie will generate much local interest and ticketing details will be released in due course.
The Shields game was probably written. I just knew it would be them or Shildon in the north draw. I’m expecting a tough game. They will play at a high tempo and look to put us under pressure straight away and they’ve already seen off Darlo and York - with a certain Julio Arca still influential for them.
I still haven’t forgotten our defeat to Blyth in the FA Cup a few years ago when Alan Shearer gave them a pre-game prep-talk!
It’s the tie of the round and I expect BBC will pick it as the live online game.
Mark Carroll is a regular contributor to the BBC Tees fan panel which airs on the wireless on a Thursday night and he follows Pools to every home and away game.