FIVE key decisions for Pools boss Matthew Bates ahead of National League season
Given recent events, pre-season has been a positive, walk in the park for Hartlepool United.
Gone are the days of constant financial fears, never ending slumps and little in the way of positivity - we hope - and in its place has come a smooth transition from one season to the next, with a faint glimmer of optimism.
Say it quietly, but it really does feel like Pools are headed in the right direction - all pulling the same way, all with the same cause.
And given recent showings, it’s not beyond the realms of all possibility that Pools could mount a promotion push this season.
They may not have the rumoured £5,000 a week wages to dish out to players, like others at this level, but they seem to have found a manager who knows his stuff, a switched on director of football, an owner who cares and a group of players who are not only tight, but also seem to have the right mix of talent, determination and skill.
With that in mind, and the National League season only a week and a half away, manager Matthew Bates has a few decisions to make in his squad before August 4 comes around.
Here our man Liam Kennedy takes a closer look at FIVE areas where Bates needs to make a call.
Competition for places is high at Pools, nowhere is this more apparent than in the centre of the park.
Paddy McLaughlin hasn’t even really had a look in yet at Pools, top-scorer from last season Michael Woods has been benched and Conor Newton, one of the under-the-radar stand outs from the back end of last season, is another who might struggle to get in.
At this stage Liam Noble looks a shoe-in. Tough and with a remarkable passing range, he’s just what this team has needed for a long while. He struck up a cracker of a partnership with Nicky Featherstone on Saturday at Spennymoor Town, too.
Peter Kioso, injured at the weekend, is most likely to be one of the two wing-backs in this adventurous, but seemingly well-suited to Pools’ personnel, 3-4-2-1.
Mark Kitching has impressed on the other side, Kenton Richardson is the ultimate athlete, while Ryan Donaldson even did a job there on Saturday.
Four players can play there in the Pools squad, three are likely to be in the running.
Niko Muir, at this stage, looks to be the man with the shirt.
His performances in pre-season have been impressive. Even if he didn’t score on Saturday, he came mighty close - hitting the bar with a header.
I’m sure Jake Cassidy and new boy Marcus Dinanga will have something to day about it. Luke James is likely to be deployed deeper.
The two players off the front will also be hotly contested with, as above mentioned, James certain to be one of the duo.
Dinanga could be one, Donaldson has supposedly impressed in training, Lewis Hawkins has been trialled in that area, while Josh Hawkes brings obvious quality if deployed.
I’d think it could be Hawkes and James who get the nod next week.
The backline is probably the most settled area of this team.
It almost picks itself, but depending on choices elsewhere someone like Kioso could operate there.
Louis Laing has to have a much better season to hope to muscle in on those in front of him.
Myles Anderson has looked decent in spells but shaky in others, Andrew Davies looks every bit the leader Bates hoped for while Carl Magnay has the armband.