Matthew Bates breaks Hartlepool United shackles
Caretaker boss Matthew Bates admits he's released the shackles on his Hartlepool United players.
Pools were much improved at Aldershot despite their 2-1 loss in midweek. To be fair, things couldn’t have been much worse than the Ebbsfleet debacle 10 days previous.
And much of that, according to Bates, was down to the fact he allowed his players freedom with the ball.
Without the ball, it is a very different story.
"I have tried to give the players freedom," said Bates, whose side take on Boreham Wood at Victoria Park tomorrow.
"Every bit of work I do is for when we are out of possession.
"We need to be hard to break down and hard to beat without the ball and then have freedom when we have it.
"I want the players to make their own decisions – they are experienced enough to know what to do in situations with the ball.
"Being good without the ball can bring confidence with it."
A new manager, new coaches, fresh ideas and training methods. It’s been a whirlwind two and a half weeks at Pools since Bates stepped in to take the reins from sacked Craig Harrison.
But, despite the upheaval, the dressing room seem to be buying into Bates’s methods.
The key now is turning that into results.
"The lads know what I want," said Bates.
"And I think they took that out on the pitch with them against Aldershot, who are one of the best teams at this level.
"The principles I want the team to have, the fundamentals, the basics – they were there on Tuesday.
"Everything we worked on, I saw out there.
"It was a good performance, but we have not reproduced things like that this season. We need to this weekend.
"Don’t let the standards drop. That’s my message.
"Boreham Wood are another good side. It will be a physical game, but I am a massive believer that if you have the right attitude, better reading of the game you get to the ball first, which is all that matters, not size."
For the first time in a long while, the 65 Poolies who made the trip to Hampshire in midweek, clapped Pools off the park.
It was a clear endorsement that at least Pools put up a fight, even though the result and points were not forthcoming on the night.
Now the fans are back on side, Bates hopes they stick with his team.
But, he says, the responsibility to keep them on board lies on the shoulders of his players, not with those on the terraces.
"We need to carry on what we have done so far and start getting results," said the caretaker.
"The fans are with us now, it’s down to the players to keep it that way.
"I am enjoying it [the Pools job].
"The two games have been chalk and cheese, but, in a way, we have shown signs of improvement.
"We need to make forward steps again."
Of the weekend visit of The Wood, Bates said his players need to make the Vic a difficult place to come for any team.
At the moment, he feels it’s like a home away from home for many fifth-tier sides.
Bates said: "People still come to this football club and see what we have – the fans, the stadium – and say to me ‘this is lovely, isn’t it?’
"It is a big club for the level.
"But that only ever gets you so far.
"We need to start getting results, make this a hard place to come and make ourselves solid and hard to beat."
Meanwhile, Bates is sweating on the fitness of centre forward Jake Cassidy.
The striker picked up a knock on his ankle at the EBB Stadium in midweek and is a doubt tomorrow.
Bates, though, is hopeful that the former Wolves and Tranmere forward will be fit.
"Cass had a struggle with his ankle, but, fingers crossed, he will be fine," said Bates.
Elsewhere, Jack Munns looks certain to be called on to Pools’ bench, having fully recovered from his recent operation to remove a tumour from his mouth.
Munns has had an horrific season when it comes to injuries, and, having returned to full training yesterday, could make his first appearance of 2018.
"It was Jack’s first session back and it was a tough one," said Bates.
"We will see if he can play.
"He will hopefully be in my thoughts for the match."