Dave Challinor discusses Hartlepool United's ‘best’ starting line-up as he contemplates more changes ahead of National League play-offs

Hartlepool United manager Dave Challinor has been tweaking his side in preparation for the play-offs.

Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 12:30 pm

Pools’ haven’t named an unchanged starting line-up since the 2-2 draw at Boreham Wood on April 5. Seven matches and 15 personnel changes later and Hartlepool sit fourth in the National League table going into the final match of the regular season at home to Weymouth (12:30pm kick-off).

While Challinor has a fairly solid idea of what his ‘strongest’ starting line-up is, he has justified the recent changes as preparation to get more players ready for the crucial play-off matches in June.

Pools’ previous win at Aldershot saw Challinor return to a 3-5-2 formation with Ryan Johnson, Gary Liddle and Lewis Cass in defence, David Ferguson and Jamie Sterry at left and right wing-back respectively, a midfield three of Nicky Featherstone, Mark Shelton and Gavan Holohan and a front two of Luke Armstrong and Rhys Oates.

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Hartlepool manager, Dave Challinor during the Vanarama National League match between Hartlepool United and Maidenhead United at Victoria Park, Hartlepool on Saturday 8th May 2021. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

That exact outfield line-up has actually only featured once previously for Pools this season – in a 1-0 win at Dagenham & Redbridge in March – but it’s one Challinor recognised as one of his strongest going into the play-offs.

“It’s certainly [one of the strongest] from the players we’ve had," he told The Mail.

“A lot of the players we used [at Aldershot] have played a big part in the run we’ve had. A lot of others are putting themselves in a place where if people don’t perform, they have a shot to step in if you like and that has to be the case when it comes to the starting 11.

"It’s about form more than anything else and producing performances. Going back to the previous games and even before that, a few of the lads didn’t have their best games, that happens, but on the whole their consistency has been pretty good over the past six months.

“The important thing for us is to go into the play-off games with everybody fit and everybody in a good place regardless of what team we went with on Sunday or choose next Saturday, our biggest games are further down the line.”

Hartlepool have no new injury concerns as it stands following Sunday’s 3-0 defeat at Sutton United with Harvey Saunders likely to be back available following a knee injury.

But Challinor will have some important selection decisions to make, particularly when it comes to who starts in goal. Brad James kept his place in the line-up after a promising debut at Aldershot but made a costly mistake which resulted in the opening goal at Sutton.

“There are decisions to make all the way through in terms of who we select,” Challinor added.

“It’s easy to make knee jerk reactions but we’ll make a decision through the week regarding how we go and what best suits us to go and win next week to take us into the play-offs.

"We’ll look at what that gives us and it’s something we will judge over the course of the week in training.”

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