South Shields-Hartlepool United: Four key areas for Pools in FA Cup

Jack Munns
Jack Munns

Craig Harrison has vowed to send out his strongest Hartlepool United side at South Shields on Saturday.

While not doubting the veracity of that statement, after 15 games crammed into nine breathless weeks, are changes in the offing?

SportMail examines four key areas for Harrison to look at for the FA Cup fourth qualifying round at Mariners Park.

Full-back:

Perhaps ‘playing through the pain barrier’ might be pushing it a tad, but Carl Magnay and Nicky Deverdics were in a measure of discomfort in the win at Solihull Moors.

Both would be near-enough automatic picks at Shields this weekend, but will Harrison give their bodies an afternoon off.

Blair Adams made his first XI return at Solihull, coming on for the last quarter of an hour on the left of midfield, while teenager Kenton Richardson, excellent last season in his run in the team, is champing at the bit for an outing at right-back.

If Harrison is to rest anyone, the full-back area has potential, given the calibre of the replacements.

Central defence:

Here is a serious poser. Harrison will hope to have Michael Ledger available for selection while Liam Donnelly is back from Northern Ireland.

But does Harrison give further time for the Louis Laing-Scott Harrison combo time to grow.

The pair started the season before injuries intervened with the exit of Keith Watson and Ledger plus Donnelly’s international duty opening up a return for the duo.

They have played the last two games – both wins – and would be good bets to continue.

But will Saturday be horses for courses? Shields have a short, quick and tricky striker in Gavin Cogdon, so will the boss plump for Donnelly?

Midfield: If there was one department you would put a quid on NOT changing, it would be midfield.

Lewis Hawkins had a (very rare) off-day at Solihull and was given a ‘rest’ at half-time. but the old combination of Nicky Featherstone, Michael Woods and Hawkins has worked a treat. It’s no coincidence Pools have lost just once since the trio came back together.

Summer signing Luke George could do with a game though, giving Harrison a slight headache. It would be good to see more than the glimpse we’ve had to date of George, who has recovered from injury.

Up front: Here is the most difficult choice. Like Hawkins, James Thorne was withdrawn at the break at Solihull, with Rhys Oates coming on to great success.

So too Jack Munns as Pools went to a second-half diamond, rather than the 4-3-3 Harrison tends to favour.

Thorne though needs minutes to acclimatise to the National League, having played little football this season.

Devante Rodney needs game-time too – the young striker is still hitting something of a physical barrier around the hour mark, but before tiring there was much more promise down the right from him on Saturday, when he beat his marker and let go with his shots.

Harrison has the option of giving Jonathan Franks a rest, or certainly a slot on the bench, as the leading scorer has played every minute of the last 10 games.

If he plays a front three he could go for his three strongmen, Oates, Thorne and Rodney or if he plays a midfield diamond, Oates and Munns as his most advanced players.

Harrison has options coming out of his ears, so the 2pm announcement of the starting XI will be eagerly anticipated.