Hartlepool United have “a real strong squad” which can compete at the top end of League Two.
That was the assessment of manager Craig Hignett in the aftermath of the unfortunate EFL Cup exit at Preston North End.
Pools may today be nursing aching limbs after an incredible effort at Deepdale, not to mention the aching hearts following the 1-0 defeat from Eoin Doyle’s winner in the fourth-minute of stoppage time.
But the boss says the performance of a side which showed five changes against a near full strength Sky Bet Championship outfit is proof that Pools are a club on the up.
Hignett brought in Adam Bartlett, Matthew Bates, Michael Woods, Josh Laurent and Nicky Deverdics to the starting XI - evidence he told SportMail that Pools now have a super squad.
“I want to look at my squad and know that all the players are good enough to play in the side,” he said.
“We now have a real strong squad.
“That was policy behind our summer recruitment.
“This club now has a squad that can cope with anything that is thrown at us and that’s what I wanted.
“I was able to change the whole midfield last night and I thought they were excellent and I was in a position where I could rest a lot of important players.
“That was my choice but I know too that if I get one, two, three, four injuries that we have the squad that can cope.
“I know that we can make changes without the quality dropping and you saw that at Preston.
“Look at the bench I had last night, Nicky Featherstone and Lewis Hawkins were on it and they’ve been outstanding and I was able to give Trevor Carson a night off and play Barts.
“I have really good players in my squad that I trust and know they are real quality footballers.”
Hignett made one enforced change last night with Billy Paynter left out after feeling under the weather.
The skipper, who earned Pools a point with a successful penalty against Colchester on Saturday at the Northern Power & Gas Stadium, will be fit though for Saturday’s trip to Exeter City in League Two.
“Billy will be all right,” said Hignett. “He could have played last night at a push.
“He was feeling ill so we sent him home, a couple of days off and he’ll be OK to train on Thursday.”
Nathan Thomas, who was a constant threat going forward at Deepdale, took some punishment but Hignett said he too would be fit for the visit to St James’s Park.
“Nathan took one or two kicks and was moaning afterwards,” he smiled. “But he wouldn’t be Nathan if he wasn’t moaning. He’s all right.
“We’ll be fine for the weekend.”