Hartlepool United have proven that they can go into the lion’s den and not wilt in the heat of battle, according to Craig Hignett.
Now the manager says his players must show they can deal with the pressure on home soil.
We blocked and tackled and headed away and showed what we can do.
Last time out, Hignett’s men put in a fighting, spirited performance to frustrate Portsmouth, coming away from Fratton Park with a point after a goalless draw.
But their return to form at the Northern Gas & Power Stadium went up in smoke a fortnight ago when, having got to half way level, they capitulated in the second period, suffering a five-goal hammering at the hands of Shaun Derry’s men.
The manager has said in recent weeks that he was not sure his players could cope with the criticism, the big crowds and the occasion. Last weekend went some way to disproving that.
“We blocked and tackled and headed away and showed what we can do,” he said.
“Now we have to take this home on Boxing Day against Blackpool.
“We owe the fans one at home after the last one, it’s important to get back to winning games.”
Pools have been accused of lacking character in recent weeks.
And Hignett believes this is not just a Hartlepool problem, it’s a football wide one.
Delving a little deeper, Hignett thinks a lot of the issues of the modern footballer stem from their upbringing in the game.
He thinks clubs these days produce ‘soft’ footballers, who can’t deal with criticism.
It’s a long way from the days when he was a coming up through the ranks.
“Some lads can’t handle it. The young ones find it difficult,” he said.
“We had all the jobs when I was a kid at Liverpool. We had to clean their boots. You can’t do that now.
“Sometimes the senior players were vicious with us. You grew a thick skin.
“It’s different coming through now. Sometimes the first time these boys have had criticism is when they hit 18.
“It is too late by then. They have got used to it.
“When someone shouts you either wilt, go into your shell, or you think I am going to show you.
“Sometimes the best players haven’t got that. If that’s what they are, you are never going to be a footballer of any note.”
Reflecting back on his own experiences in the late 1980s with Liverpool, then Crewe into the 1990s, he said: “You had to stick up for yourself.
“I was insecure because I was slight. But the one thing I never did was wilt under the pressure.
“The more people in a ground the more I performed. I wanted to showcase what I could do.
“I never thought of it as being under pressure.
“It is something you go through, wanting to better yourself. I forced myself to deal with it, some of the players now have to make themselves do the same.”