Craig Hignett throws down the gauntlet to Hartlepool United players

Craig Hignett.

Craig Hignett.

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Hartlepool United boss Craig Hignett has asked his players to prove they are strong enough to mix it with the best in League Two.

After yet another game where points went begging at the weekend the gaffer has been left questioning whether his squad is mentally tough enough to fulfill their ambitions of a top seven spot this season.

The loss to 10-man Carlisle also has Hignett, who has no questions about his players’ ability, wondering whether Pools, who occupy 13th in the fourth tier table, have the professionalism to do well this campaign.

The manager explained: “Changing the mentality (of the players) is the hardest part for me.

“It’s like they expect things to happen. I’m thinking why? They know they are the better side, so just go out and impose yourselves on it.

“The errors for the goals were so sloppy. It’s as if they are thinking ‘you’ve only got 10 men you can’t hurt us’.

“That’s why people play higher and people play in League Two.

“We had lots of good performances, but I have to question their mentality and their professionalism when things like that happen.”

With the youthful appearance of his Pools side many have questioned whether Hignett’s men have shown a bit of naivety this season, especially in throwing a way leading positions against the likes of Luton Town and Plymouth Argyle.

That’s not the case, according the Hignett.

“It’s not naivety, it’s individual errors,” he said.

“We have done our jobs well, but if an individual switches off from a set-piece then it’s not naivety it’s just concentration. It’s maybe being tired in a game, not thinking about what you are doing.

“To be fair to the lads they have been honest and held their hands up, but they have to learn from it and can’t keep doing it – that’s the difference between finishing in the top half and the top seven.”

On the injury front ahead of this weekend, the gaffer is unlikely to be able to call upon the services of Matthew Bates.

The defender has made a return to first-team training but is unlikely to be risked, having only just began to recover from severe bone bruising on his foot.

The match is almost certain to come around too soon for Rob Jones, who is still struggling with a hip problem picked up against Yeovil at the start of last month.

Nicky Featherstone does return to the fold, though.

The midfielder served the final game of his three game stint on the sidelines for the red card he picked up in the home draw with Luton Town.

Michael Woods is also in contention having shown no ill-effects after his return from a knee issue.