Selection issues for Matthew Bates at Hartlepool United - not that the manager is complaining
Matthew Bates knows he'll have some disappointed players when he picks his Hartlepool starting XI for this weekend's opener.
But the manager has urged those who miss out on the first-team to keep their heads up as he knows he’ll need every player in the squad across a gruelling National League season.
This weekend’s squad conundrum is a stark contrast to the time Pools last went to Maidstone United.
In March they could barely pull together a matchday 16, now they are going to have to leave out senior pros, with 19 first-team players vying for a slot in the side or on the bench.
Bates admits telling players they will not be involved is one of the hardest roles in football - but he’d not have it any other way, especially after the struggles of last season.
When asked how close he is to deciding his team for the weekend, he said: “I am close.
“There are still a number of positions that can be filled. We will work this week on that.
“I have said to the lads that it is their chance to get in the team. They have to earn it.
“One of the hardest jobs as a manager is to pick the team but it is only difficult if you have options and the players are doing well.
“Everyone has a chance of playing.”
Injury and suspension always plays its part in the course of a season and Bates is happy with the balance of his squad, having managed to sign all of his main summer transfer targets.
He feels he has players in almost every position who can come in and do a job - with midfield particularly well-stocked.
“I have said it before and I will say it again, I am very happy with my business this summer,” he said.
“We not picked up any injuries this week so we will have a full squad of 19 to pick from.
“They have given me a headache.
“There will be some unhappy lads next week but it is what it is - that’s football, that’s competition.
“It is a long, long season. Injuries and suspensions will come into play. Everyone will play a massive part.
“It has gone from one extreme to the other in terms of competition but I would much rather have that and decisions to make than not.”
Having sailed through pre-season with relative to ease, Pools hit a bump in the road at the weekend.
A Britt Assombalonga-inspired Middlesbrough side - managed on the day by ex-player Jonathan Woodgate - cruised to a 5-0 win at Victoria Park, all goals coming in the space of 14 minutes.
Bates is not sure if he got the system wrong, whether his players got it wrong, or whether Boro were just far too good for Pools on the day. It might have been a bit of all three.
Bates said: “It worked for 75 minutes of the game - it didn’t work for 15 minutes.
“It is down to the system, maybe.
“Could it be down to individual errors, maybe.
“I didn’t want to come and change things tactically so close to the season.
“Pre-season is about us and how we wanted to play and that’s why we did what we did against Boro.”