HARTLEPOOL United were today looking for a new assistant manager after the shock departure of Craig Hignett.
Colin Cooper’s right-hand-man has left to return to Middlesbrough to become Aitor Karanka’s number two.
The 44-year-old handed in his notice late yesterday afternoon and within hours he was at the Riverside Stadium alongside his new boss Karanka watching the Boro U21 in action against Aston Villa.
The Boro legend joined Pools last summer as assistant to Cooper only to leave after just nine months in the post.
Pools have confirmed Hignett will not be working his notice period and has immediately taken up the role of assistant head coach to the Spaniard.
Karanka had been searching for a coach since taking over at the club in October and it was confirmed last night Hignett is that man.
His departure from Victoria Park is a mammoth blow for Cooper after the pair had guided the side to within five points of the play-offs.
With the League Two programme coming to a climax, he must now look to replace the popular Scouser, with several names already in the frame.
Pools defender Sam Collins has been helping coach the reserves this season and could be a contender, although he is also back in the first-team and performing well alongside Christian Burgess.
Other names which could interest Cooper are former Boro teammate Neil Maddison, currently working as a Boro summariser on BBC Tees, while ex-Boro assistant boss Mark Venus, from Seaton Carew, could also be
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Cooper is unlikely to want to rush into a decision but he may not have much choice with just over two months of the season left.
If they were looking for a stop-gap measure they could do worse than looking to Nick Barmby, dad of on-loan Manchester United forward Jack, who has been a regular at the Vic recently and has coaching experience.
Dean Saunders and Stuart Pearce are both experienced managers currently out of work and former Nottingham Forest team mates of Cooper.
But whether they’d be willing to drop down to a number two position is highly unlikely, although it could be a short-term option.
Hignett’s exit came as a shock to Pools fans and a brief statement on the club’s website said Boro had informed chief executive Russ Green that Hignett would not be working his notice period and would start at his new club today.
A statement said: “The club wishes to advise that late this afternoon assistant manager Craig Hignett has handed in his notice.
“Middlesbrough FC have advised the club’s chief executive Russ Green that Craig will not be working his notice period for Hartlepool United and will be starting work at Middlesbrough on Tuesday 4th March.
“The club has no further comment.”
Neither Hignett nor Cooper were available for comment last night.
Hignett, from Huyton, on Merseyside, quickly formed a formidable partnership with Cooper at Pools after their appointment last summer.
Dubbed “Mr Serious and Mr Daft” by the players, they complimented each other well and helped steady the ship this season at Pools, with the side currently five points outside the top-seven.
After the recent 1-1 draw away to Southend United, Cooper had this to say about their partnership: “The relationship between me and Craig is brilliant.
“I’m stood saying to the lads I love seeing blocks and tackles in and around the box.
“Whereas Craig says ‘I hate all that, I want to see us being creative at the other end of the pitch’.
“The contrast is brilliant.”
But that partnership is now over and Cooper will be looking to bring in a replacement ahead of a busy final few months of the season – Pools have six more matches in March alone.
While it is undoubtedly a huge blow for Pools, the capture of Hignett is a coup for Boro, where he enjoyed the best years of his career between 1992 and 1998.
It was an eventful six years on Teesside which included two promotions and an appearance in both the FA Cup Final and the League Cup Final in 1996-97, scoring the first ever goal at the Riverside Stadium as well.
In his final appearance he scored two goals in a 4-1 win over Oxford United at the Riverside to guarantee Boro promotion to the Premier League.
The former Aberdeen, Barnsley and Blackburn Rovers forward also made two appearances for Pools during a brief stint at the end of his career.
He moved into coaching, first with Boro’s Academy and then joining Cooper at Pools last May.
A Middlesbrough FC statement read: “Boro have confirmed the appointment of club legend Craig Hignett as assistant head coach to Aitor Karanka.
“Hignett joins from neighbours Hartlepool United, where he had been assistant manager to Colin Cooper since last summer.
“He brings a wealth of experience and Boro thanked Hartlepool United for their cooperation over the appointment.
“The club also thanked Jamie Clapham for assisting Karanka since he joined the club in October.
“Clapham will now return to his previous role of Senior Professional Development Phase coach, looking after Boro’s U21 side.”