Hartlepool United must keep faith with Nathan Thomas and three other key areas
Matthew Bates and Hartlepool United are just four days away from crunch time.
Pools go into their second bottom v second top confrontation with Doncaster Rovers with their Football League status hanging by a thread.
Bates, club captain Billy Paynter, and backroom staff, Stuart Parnaby and Ian Gallagher lost their opening match in charge since the sacking of boss Dave Jones.
But the 1-0 defeat at Cheltenham did not relegate Pools after Newport lost 2-1 at Carlisle to keep the gap at one point. Here are four key areas for Pools in the must-win game at the Northern Gas & Power Stadium this Saturday.
Keep faith with Nathan Thomas?
Surely the answer has to be yes? The forward was cock-a-hoop last week following the exit of Jones and the installation of the fab four.
There was a glint in his eye again and this reporter, and others, were relishing watching Thomas at Whaddon Road. However, after the big build-up, the 22-year-old looked out of sorts and was withdrawn 10 minutes into the second half.
Rhys Oates was more effective, joining Padraig Amond and Lewis Alessandra in a front three, the ex-Barnsley forward setting up Amond who was unlucky not to bag the equaliser.
But there were mitigating factors for Nathan, who not only went onto the game with a sore knee but was forced to perform on a lousy surface.
It was hard enough keeping your feet, let alone weaving around defenders.
Groundsman Dave Brown and his staff will have a glorious surface for Thomas and Co to excel on, so the League Two Messi should start.
Oates though would be a helluva fella for Pools to have up their sleeves.
Should Liam Donnelly return?
Having said ‘yes’ to selecting Thomas, your ‘amateur’ boss would have to say no to Donnelly.
Not necessarily because of his incredible show of petulance at Leyton Orient two games ago, though Pools need to be keeping their heads against Doncaster, rather than losing them.
No, Pools should keep faith with Jordan Richards at right-back and Carl Magnay on the left side of defence.
With Donnelly suspended and Kenton Richardson still not recovered from an ankle problem, Bates recalled Richards from his loan spell at Alfreton and moved Magnay across to replace Nicky Deverdics.
Richards took full advantage of his second chance at the club and got forward at every opportunity.
The 24-year-old is worth another shot this week, so too Magnay. The left is his ‘wrong’ side but his defensive mettle and experience will be vital, especially as a guiding voice for Scott Harrison and Brad Walker at centre-half.
How to deal with Doncaster?
It will be a huge challenge for Pools to beat Rovers and an intriguing tactical challenge for Bates and his comrades.
Doncaster have gone off the boil since the champagne corks were popping at the Keepmoat following their promotion.
But Darren Ferguson has an incredible array of talent in his side, evidenced by the fact Rovers are the division’s top scorers, by some margin, netting 84 times.
What should Pools do? Put men behind the ball and hope to frustrate Donny and take a chance of their own if it comes along? Or give the players licence to go forward and get at a side who have lost three in a row?
Tough call isn’t it? Bates sent Pools out on the front foot at Cheltenham and the positive approach deserved a better reward.
Pools can’t keep clean sheets – just two in 2017 – so it may be a risk putting their eggs in that basket this Saturday.
Amond, Alessandra and Thomas have 32 goals between them, let ’em loose!
Keeping the fans onside.
A mammoth crowd is expected at the Vic this Saturday after Pools slashed the prices to a fiver.
It all went horribly wrong against Barnet two Saturdays ago for Pools – falling behind in a must-win match and Newport going ahead elsewhere.
The home fans went mental against the players, manager and chairman and the atmosphere became somewhat toxic.
Pools must win on Saturday, before we even start thinking about Newport and what they are doing against Notts County.
If things are not going great, the blue and white army must try to keep the faith and stick with their team.
Hartlepool United’s Football League lives are depending on it.