Which Hartlepool United defender is Premier League class? Craig Hignett reveals all.

Matthew Bates
Matthew Bates
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Boss Craig Hignett has hailed the return of ‘Premier League class’ Matthew Bates to the heart of Hartlepool United’s backline.

Having not kicked a ball since August 27 due to bone brusing in his foot, Bates made a full return to the Pools first-team yesterday.

He cruised through the game and showed what he is all about.

The former England youth international completed 90 minutes in the 3-0 win over Stamford.

And Hignett couldn’t have been more delighted with the contribution of the 29-year-old.

The Pools backline has been in line for some fair criticism in recent weeks, having conceded nine in their last three.

But with Bates back to lead, Pools kept a rare clean sheet.

And Hignett pointed the finger at Bates, who the gaffer says could still be playing in the top flight were it not for his injury history.

The manager said: “Batesy was excellent.

“He’s been injured and out the team for a while, but he’s worked hard to get back.

“It has taken some time to get him back into the team but this week he worked so hard in training.

“He cruised through the game and showed what he is all about.

“That is the quality he has got.

“You can see that he has played at a much higher level than this.

“He needs minutes.

“He is a calming influence. He doesn’t do this by shouting, he does this with his performance.

“He will push people about, get them in shape and we have missed it.

“Nothing flusters him. He’s been a Premier League player.

“He’s had three cruciate injuries in each leg and that’s the only reason why he’s not in the Premier League now.”

While Bates’ return was said to be slightly ahead of schedule, one man who had to postpone his first taste of action after injury woes was Rob Jones.

It had been expected that Jones would come back into the reckoning yesterday but a hamstring problem, following on from his hip issues, meant the big central defender had to sit it out.

While Hignett says Pools have missed the towering 36-year-old’s presence, he did not feel it was right to risk him.

“Rob didn’t wasn’t to risk it and we didn’t want to see him out further,” said the gaffer.

“Rob is a leader who shouts and screams and is more aggressive and it’s nice to have him in and around the squad.

“Rob, any doubt, and keep him for a league game. We have missed them both and go with Batesy on Wednesday. The league game to come on Saturday.

“We have to manage them carefully. Between then they are 86 years old. Rob trains and works like a beast and he has to be reigned in.

“Batesy knows his own body, he manages himself.”

Safely through to the next round, Hignett’s eyes have already turned to who Pools might get in round two.

The manager says it matters little to him who the opponent is, as he expects a tough tie. But a home draw would again be favourable.

He said: “Second round? This was a banana skin as no-one expected them to win. It’s tough ewhoever we play and I want a home tie.”