Hartlepool United-Sunderland: Craig Hignett says players are relishing Premier League test

Hartlepool United's players are straining at the leash for tonight's big friendly with Sunderland.

Wednesday, 20th July 2016, 5:59 am
Toto Nsalia in action at Billingham Town. Picture by Tom Collins.

The Pools squad have only had 45 minutes of match football since returning to pre-season training, a 4-0 win at Billingham Town.

Boss Craig Hignett did stage an in-house affair last Wednesday in Tenerife, the game being split into three 30-minute segments.

But tonight’s friendly with the Black Cats has the players excited, as Hignett told SportMail.

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“They are all looking forward to it,” said the manager who will include summer signings Padraig Amond, Lewis Alessandra, Nicky Deverdics and Toto Nsalia for their first taste of Victoria Park in Pools colours.

“The lads have worked really hard, in Tenerife and here, and are all fit.

“We did a double session yesterday at Maiden Castle and the lads looked a bit tired.

“But they can’t wait to play a Premier League side, it will be a good test.”

Sunderland, of course, will provide a significantly harder assignment than Northern League outfit Billingham Town.

However, Hignett is looking to see them take into this game the things they have been working on in Durham and Tenerife.

“It’s great for the lads to come up against Premier League players,” said the boss.

“It will be a good yardstick for them.

“They have trained really and we had a really good game over in Tenerife.

“I’m looking forward to seeing if the players can do on the pitch what they have been doing in training.

“The way the lads have bought into what we are doing and they way they have worked, I’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t.

“I’m quite confident we’ll see the progress that has been made.

Hignett and his coaches put the players through a tough week at Top Training Tenerife in La Caleta.

And he hopes the relative lack of friendly action will not be a problem.

“Maybe,” he admitted. “The lads do need to find their match legs, that is true.

“But I don’t want the players overworked.

“I want a good build-up to the season and that’s what we’ll have.

“After tonight, it’s Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday and then it’s the season the following weekend.”

Pools travel to Livingston this weekend and will take a first team to Guisborough next Tuesday with the visit of Scunthorpe to the Vic ending pre-season on July 30.

“I could have added another game, but I don’t think it’s necessary,” added Hignett.

“We’ve lost the Salford match next Tuesday - I was going to send half my squad there and half to Guisborough.”

Hignett will have a 20-man squad in action tonight and he will look to give his starting XI around an hour each.

He includes a triallist, former Fulham defender Liam Donnelly, who played 10 times on loan at Crawley Town last season.

The 20-year-old, capped once by Northern Ireland, made no senior appearances for the Cottagers.