Five key questions for Hartlepool Utd
1. Are Hartlepool United ready for the season?
You would like to think so and we will get to know for sure on Saturday against Colchester when Pools take on a side from League Two.
Pools have played six pre-season friendlies and it is hard to gauge if there is a right or wrong number or the right or wrong level of opposition.
Incidentally, opponents Colchester had seven matches.
Pools boss Craig Hignett is meticulous in all he does – every training session is planned in the utmost detail – so if he thinks six was the correct number then six it is.
The squad have been put through their paces by Craig Hubbard and Stuart Parnaby and could not be in better hands on the fitness front. The ball has been out in every training session too, so fitness and football have gone hand in hand. Or should that be foot to foot?
2. Has Craig Hignett successfully replaced Adam Jackson, Jake Gray and Luke James?
There were a number of significant exits at the end of last season, none more so than the return of the above trio to their parent clubs after successful loan spells.
Hignett has gone for quality rather than quantity in his transfer dealings and is confident he’s got that in Lewis Alessandra, Padraig Amond, Nicky Deverdics and Toto Nsiala.
Pools needed goals after relying too heavily on Billy Paynter last season and all but Nsiala bring great scoring potential. Too much change sometimes has an adverse effect and the manager seems to have got it right.
3: How have the new boys settled in?
Pretty well it would appear. Nsiala had a rocky moment or two with Jermain Defoe – the Sunderland striker can do that to Premier League defenders – though he looks a strong defender and tremendous athlete.
Alessandra has looked good up front, he’s busy, skilled with an eye for goal.
You would say steady rather than spectacular for Amond and Deverdics so far. The pair had long – and successful – 2015-16 seasons so there should be no issues over their suitabilities after 50-odd goals between them in the National League.
Alessandra and Amond both linked up nicely with Paynter last week at Guisborough.
4. Will Hignett make any more signings?
Don’t rule it out – he would love another central defender in the squad – though he may wait to explore and utilise the loan market.
Predecessor Ronnie Moore used the loan system as though it was going out of fashion, as indeed it was.
Now, instead of being able to sign players ona nything from a month’s loan to three, players can now only go out on half and full-season arrangements.
And those long-term deals must now be concluded before the end of the transfer window.
Hignett could still sign an Adam Jackson or a Jake Gray type figure from a leading club but, a bit like his summer signings, it would be a case of quality as opposed to quantity. The days of the revolving loan door have been ended.
5. What will Pools do with their triallists?
You would have to suggest that a decision over Liam Donnelly and Scott Harrison would be imminent.
Donnelly has been at Pools for a couple of weeks following his release by Championship outfit Fulham and has played four times, appearing at both centre-half and right-back.
The 20-year-old has a good pedigree, having been on the books at Craven Cottage for a few years and has a Northern Ireland cap to his name.
He has been reliable enough without taking your breath away.
But Pools are short of cover in central defence and Hignett has scope to add to his squad.
That could be good news for Harrison, who has done his chances of winning a contract no harm.
Released at the end of last season, the 22-year-old was invited for pre-season training and, wisely, took up the offer in his bid to prove himself.
Harrison was unlucky last season. In the opening months he looked the only centre-half who was both fit and knew what he was doing.
But a harsh sending off saw him lose his place with Jackson and Matthew Bates preferred at the heart of the defence. And when a chance came, a dramatic last-minute call into the side at Bristol Rovers, he had a ‘mare at the hands of Matty Taylor and was never seen again.
Strong, aggressive and a handful in the opposition box, the ex-Sunderland would be worth a punt.