Craig Hignett building job under way at Hartlepool United
Evolution not revolution will be the way Craig Hignett builds his Hartlepool United empire.
It would be hard to pick fault with Hignett since he took charge at Pools.
The ex-Middlesbrough attacker transformed Pools from relegation battlers into a solid mid-table unit in a matter of weeks.
A win tomorrow at Plymouth Argyle – not beyond the realms of fantasy – and Pools will end the season 16th.
Who thought that possible back on March 2 in the aftermath of the 4-1 turning-over at Bristol Rovers?
Hignett has proved the calibre of his management on the training pitch and in the dug-out. Now it is his time to show his construction skills and ambition – he certainly has the latter in abundance.
After Pools gave promotion favourites Oxford United an uncomfortable afternoon, Hignett said he thought he had the keepers, defence and midfield for a promotion campaign.
He started to fill in the Pools jigsaw by getting both keepers, Trevor Carson and Adam Bartlett, to sign new contracts and tied midfielders Lewis Hawkins and Nicky Featherstone to the club.
Yesterday, Pools announced that Matthew Bates, Jake Carroll, Kieran Green, Carl Magnay, Rhys Oates, Billy Paynter, Jordan Richards, Connor Smith and Brad Walker would all be staying at the club.
At the same time, Hignett told Scott Fenwick, Scott Harrison and Harry Worley that they did fit into his plans.
The trio followed Peter Denton, Ebby Nelson-Addy and Kudus Oyenuga out of the exit door.
Tough calls? Not especially. This writer expected two or three more to depart.
Denton looks the part. Tall and athletic, the 19-year-old came highly-recommended but does a League Two club need three senior goalies? Probably not, especially when the top two are Carson and Bartlett.
He was on the bench for the opening 13 games but did not play.
Nelson-Addy and Oyenuga were also Ronnie Moore signings and it was hard to quibble with the former boss.
Both had very good pedigrees and both were worthy of a punt, Nelson-Addy having came through the ranks at Aston Villa and Oyenuga at Spurs.
Nelson-Addy struggled to acclimatise to the Football League and made only three appearances this season.
Moore hoped Oyenuga would light the blue touchpaper down the wing and there was moments of promise, scoring back-to-back vital goals in November.
The Londoner scored the winner in the FA Cup victory over Cheltenham and slotted the penalty as Pools came from a goal down to beat Leyton Orient 3-1 on the telly.
That would be his finest hour and he never played again since coming on as a sub against Oxford at the end of November.
Fenwick’s inclusion on the released list may have raised an eyebrow or irked a fan or two, given he has a good chance of finishing the season as the joint second-top scorer.
The Geordie, plucked from non-league last season by then-boss Paul Murray, has scored six in 30 appearances though, a fair number have been as a sub.
Just like last season, when he played his part in Pools staying up, Fenwick netted some vital goals – the winners against Newport and Wycombe and in the FA Cup replay struggle against Salford to name three.
His accuracy was pretty good with only two notable exceptions, at Salford and at Bristol Rovers.
But when he was sent out on loan to Tranmere, the omens looked bleak and the writing was on the wall when he did not feature once after returning.
Worley’s exit was predictable after playing just five times following his transfer from Stevenage.
On paper, the 27-year-old looked a top-calibre player, if injury prone. Alas, we did not get to see the former. He played the first opening three games before suffering his first injury in the win at York.
He returned briefly before an ankle problem effectively ended his season and his Pools stay.
The only player you have to have real sympathy for is Harrison. At the start of the season he was the only central defender at his best.
He had bad luck too. He was harshly sent off against Crawley and that opened the way for the Matthew Bates-Adam Jackson partnership which proved so successful.
Harrison was outstanding in the FA Cup third round battle with Derby County and against Wycombe the following week.
Chances were few and far between until he was thrust into the Bristol Rovers awayday at the last minute after an injury to Bates in the warm-up. The ex-Sunderland man had a nightmare evening – though he was not alone – and has not been seen since.
Hignett has made his key decisions but the futures of Rakish Bingham, Michael Duckworth, Dan Jones, Rob Jones and Michael Woods remain up in the air.
Rob Jones has certainly shown enough to be worthy of an extended stay. Hignett would love to pair Bates and Adam Jackson together again next season should he persuade Boro to allow the Young Player of the Year to return to the Vic – or buy him.
Woods is the proverbial must. The midfielder has been outstanding in that triumvirate with Hawkins and Featherstone.
Should Higgy get that signature, then the empire will be taking shape.