THREE questions facing Matthew Bates ahead of Hartlepool United's Aldershot trip

Will it or won't it be on?

Friday, 2nd March 2018, 10:00 am
Josh Hawkes.

That’s the question on the lips of every Poolie considering making the five and a half hour, 289-mile journey for Hartlepool United’s National League clash with Aldershot tomorrow.

The Shots say a call is likely to be made this evening, saving punters the lengthy trip for nothing.

It’s hardly the week caretaker boss Matthew Bates would have wanted with such a crucial clash on the horizon.

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But what is on the former defender’s agenda ahead of his fourth game, second this season, in the Victoria Park hotseat?

Here we take a look at THREE questions facing Bates ahead of the EBB Stadium visit, weather permitting, of course.

What to do with Pools central defensive pair?

This could be one of the easiest things for Bates to switch this weekend with the likely return to fitness of key defender Liam Donnelly.

The Northern Ireland Under-21 skipper has been out of action for more than a month, and it should come as no surprise that in his absence Pools have looked all at sixes and sevens.

The difficult thing for Bates, and his predecessors is that talented Donnelly, on his day, is by far and away the club’s best centre-half, right-back, left-back, central midfielder and so on. Put him up top and I’m sure he’d not look totally out of place.

At this moment in time, though, Bates needs to sort out his two in the middle.

Louis Laing had, by his own admission, the worst game of his career against Ebbsfleet. He’s not wrong. I’d be shocked if he, or many others at this level, have ever put in a worse show.

And as for Scott Harrison he did little to inspire confidence either, but comes less under the microscope as many Poolies already knew, before this season, Harrison was not up to it.

Donnelly is certain to slot in for one of them. And fingers crossed his class shines through.

As for the one of the other two who will play, this is another week. Forget about what has gone before and prove your doubters wrong. This club needs that kind of attitude.

Is there an answer to Pools full-back issues?

Last weekend Bates opted for skipper Carl Magnay and Blair Adams on either side of Harrison and Laing.

It didn’t work. But to be fair to the manager he had little else to choose from.

Magnay has just not looked the same this season. His game seems to have taken the same step backwards the club has.

He’s better than Saturday. He’s better than this season. And I think he probably knows it, too.

Pools need leaders now. Bates needs his senior pros to step up to the plate. Magnay has to lead the charge.

On the other side Adams is a very good footballer, of that there is no doubt.

But sadly he just never seems to be in the right spot defensively. And in a Pools team so often on the back foot this is not a good trait.

You can see, watching his game closely, why previous boss Craig Harrison saw it fit to try him as a winger.

The duo need to switch on this weekend and do it for 90 minutes.

Bates could change it, of course. Luke George might well be a safer option away from home.

Is the time right to throw the kids in?

With a club in turmoil and points proving particularly hard to come by it would not normally be deemed a safe time to blood the youngsters.

But sometimes needs must.

And Pools have never needed as much help in their history as they do now.

It’s not like they can sign players - the National League have put the block on that after not getting the assurances they need Pools can see out their fixtures to the end of the season.

So, turn to the kids they must.

By all accounts the likes of Josh Hawkes have looked more than impressive in the reserves.

And if there is anyone likely to give them a run it is Bates, who will know just how ready the kids are having taken them all season.

The one thing many fans have been wondering is whether those performing so admirably for the under-23s can transfer that to the fifth tier?

There genuinely is only ever one way to find out. Minutes on the pitch.

To be honest, any more injuries and Bates, whatever his thoughts on the conundrum, may have no choice.