Hartlepool winger reveals what is helping him flourish
Nathan Thomas is a man on fire '“ and it's all down to Craig Hignett. Almost.
Thomas believes the love and faith the new manager has shown him has brought out the best form of his young life.
But the 21-year-old has thanked the players at the back for laying the solid foundation to give him the stage to display his ability and his magic left peg.
The back four of Carl Magnay, Matthew Bates, Adam Jackson and Jack Carroll, allied to keeper Trevor Carson, have emerged from two tough away assignments with clean sheets.
And Thomas says that defensive solidity has beeen crucial.
“It makes my job a lot easier when I’m not having to track full-backs 60 metres and then go and run 60 metres in attack,” he said.
“Batesy, Jacko, Jake, and Maggers have probably been our best players – Jake has never played better.
“We had a clean sheet against Northampton a couple of weeks back, now back-to-back clean sheets.
“When we are under the cosh, Batesy’s there using his experience, Jacko’s eating up everything in the air, it was the same with Rob when he played.
“When they are playing like that, it takes the pressure of Billy [Paynter], Luke [James] and me, – we can just go and attack, we don’t have to worry too much about the defensive side.”
As Hignett has pointed out, he still expects his attackers to get their hands, legs and heads dirty doing their defensive chores. And they do.
Paynter got his head in the way in his own six-yard-box in the dying seconds, James chased Gwion Edwards 80 yards back to the corner flag at one juncture. Even Thomas was spotted in his own half!
They all did their bit, but you get where he is coming from.
Thomas says the role handed to him by Hignett suits him down to the ground.
“I’m loving it,” said the former Sunderland, Plymouth, Motherwell and Mansfield winger, who forms a front three alongside Paynter and James.
“Higgy has given me a licence to go and drift across the pitch.
“He allows me the freedom to go looking for the ball, instead of being an out-and-out left wing going up and down the line.
“I can go where I like and it has worked the last couple of weeks.
“I got the goal at Barnet from doing it and I nearly had a couple against Crawley.
“It’s brilliant. When you don’t see the ball you, instead of tearing your hair out, you go into areas you would not normally be in and look for it and try to make things happen.
“That’s what the better players do when you watch the Premier League.
“They will drift about and we are playing with that kind of freedom. As long as when the play breaks down we have a solid shape.”
Thomas had the best two chances. He was a lick of paint away from Paul Jones’s right stick with a 21-yard left-footer in the first half.
Eleven minutes after the break, he almost had a collector’s item – a goal with his right foot, only for Jones to make a great diving save.
It came seconds after he put one on a plate for Jake Gray, only for the midfielder to fluff his lines in front of goal.
“The first one was maybe just a few inches wide,” said the Teessider. “The second one the keeper has touched onto the bar.
“It was with my right foot so I shut my eyes! I got a good contact but it wasn’t in the corner, it was a bit straight.
“The keeper has made a good save.”
Thomas believes Pools deserved all three points but was not complaining at a draw at the mid-table side.
“Overall we probably should have won the game – we had some great long spells in control,” he said. “I had a few chances, on a good day they go in, and Jake had one in the second half.
“We nearly threw it away at the end but, apart from that, I think we’ve had the better of it.
“It would have been nice to have won, but a 0-0 away at Crawley? You take it, don’t you?”