Craig Hignett and Ryan Donaldson on Hartlepool United being set-up for National League success

Craig Hignett said Hartlepool United will be a ‘different club’ next season as he gears his side up for success in the National League.

By Dominic Scurr
Thursday, 20 June, 2019, 06:00
Hartlepool Manager Craig Hignett is discussion with Ryan Donaldson before the Vanarama National League match between Eastleigh and Hartlepool United at the Silverlake Stadium.

Pools have had a constructive summer so far, retaining key players and brining in four new signings in the form of Nicke Kabamba, Michael Raynes, Ben Killip and Luke Molyneux. 

Despite progress in the transfer market, Hignett has still been left frustrated that he hasn’t been able to get more players over the line. Barring an unforeseen development, no further incomings are expected before next week as Hartlepool’s focus turns to their pre-season schedule. 

And upon welcoming his players back from their summer break on Monday morning, Hignett’s message to them will be simple.

“I’ll make it clear to them it’s all about standards,” he said. 

“I’ll make clear our goal so that no one will be under any illusions what we’re all aiming for and we’ll have to keep giving them the message throughout the season. If they’re going through a bad time it doesn’t matter because this is the goal, this is what we’re working towards, don’t stop. 

“The main thing for me is the standards the players show, working hard and little things that will change off the pitch.”

Hignett has had his players come in to work on their fitness over the summer as part of a rigorously detailed and scientific approach that will ideally lead to success on the pitch when the National League season gets underway on August 3. 

Pools have six pre-season friendlies lined up so far in July with more still to be announced. A home game against Championship side Middlesbrough on July 14 (1pm) and an away match at National League North outfit York City on July 17 (7pm) are the two stand-out fixtures to date. 

Seven straight league defeats between October and December 2018 ultimately saw Hartlepool’s early season play-off hopes cut short and cost Matthew Bates his job as manager. 

Hignett returned as manager on a permanent basis in January and was able to pick things up and steady the ship at the Super 6 Stadium. Despite their 16th place finish, the side made an encouraging end to the 2018-19 season – winning four of their last five home matches including a 3-2 final day triumph over promotion final winners Salford City. 

And the 49-year-old is determined to transform Hartlepool into a ‘different club’ by setting the standards high from the very start of pre-season and maintaining them throughout the 2019-20 campaign. 

“We have to drive the club forward as staff and make sure the standards don’t slip,” Hignett continued. 

“It’s all good me saying all this stuff but we have to do something about it, we can’t have things going back to where they were last season three or four weeks in – I’m not going to let that happen and the staff won’t let it happen either.

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“This season, it’s a different club, every way we do things will be different, the feel will be different, the training ground and way we train will be different.

“It will be very scientific and a lot of focus will be on team shape, pattern of play. ‘We do this when this happens, we do that when that happens’ so the players are under no illusion that if we’re playing 4-3-3, this is what they need to do and if we’re playing with a five, this is how we’ll do it.

“Everyone will know their jobs and be well drilled so I’m just trying to take out all of the excuses a player can have.”

One player who is already buying into the ‘new’ Hartlepool is midfielder Ryan Donaldson. 

The 28-year-old signed a new deal at the Super 6 Stadium last month and is keen to keep progressing ahead of an important season in the fifth tier. 

“I think the Club is set up for success, there’s no doubt about that at all,” he said. 

“Perhaps there used to be a bit of a stigma about playing in this league but I don’t think there is nowadays.

“Since the Chairman and Mark Maguire have come in to the club, it has been geared up for us to do well and perhaps we, as players and a squad, have had to try and catch up with the club so to speak.”

Donaldson pointed to Pools’ end of season form as a reason why they should be challenging at the right end of the table. 

“I think in the last three of four months of last season we got together and looked like a stronger team and put in the kind of performances that can get you out of this league,” he told the club website. 

“We’re in a great place as a Club and now we have to make sure we go and produce on the pitch.”

Hartlepool will start their pre-season friendly schedule at Billingham Town a week on Tuesday (7pm kick-off) with the National League fixtures set to be released the following day.