Hartlepool United aiming for hat-trick of clean sheets in Wimbledon clash

Hartlepool United, clean sheets '“ four words which have not always featured in the same sentence this season.

Wednesday, 23rd March 2016, 10:37 am
Updated Wednesday, 23rd March 2016, 11:52 am

Until now. Pools have kept out the opposition in three of the last six matches, including back-to-back clean sheets in the last two awaydays, at Newport and Crawley.

It contrasts starkly with the stat of five in the first 29 games.

With the goals scored also going up – aside from the last two games – it all bodes well for a successful finale to the League Two programme.

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Matthew Bates has been at the centre of the miserly form – producing commanding displays at the heart of the defence.

And the 29-year-old says boss Craig Hignett and his first-team coach, Curtis Fleming, have been the architects of the new-look Pools.

“I think it’s the way Craig has set us up,” Bates told SportMail.

“He wants us solid first and foremost and then play off that.

“If we can keep a clean sheet and concede as few goals as possble then that leaves the forward players to do their thing at the other end of the pitch.

“If us as a back four and keeper and holding midfielder can give the team a solid base to work from then we have a good chance.”

Bates says the side can take a lot of pride from the solidity they have shown since the hammering at Bristol Rovers, a match he missed with back trouble.

Pools are unbeaten in four games since that 4-1 defeat and Bates says the side are desperate to extend that sequence over the Easter weekend, at home to Wimbledon tomorrow and at Leyton Orient on Easter Monday.

“Sometimes as a defender you try to create mini-leagues for yourself,” said the ex-Middlesbrough star.

“We’re unbeaten in four and conceded only two goals and just had two clean sheets.

“These runs don’t last forever but you try to keep things going as long as you can.

“We have put some good results together.

“Two wins and two draws is promotion form really, especially when you think three of the results have come away from home.

“We just need to carry on what we’ve been doing, maybe create a little bit more going forward.

“Those draws we’ve had could easily have been turned into wins.”

Tomorrow will be a test of the new-found belief in the Pools camp.

After a run of fixtures against clubs in the bottom half of the division, Pools now tackle a side going for promotion.

Wimbledon are ninth in the table, just three points off the top seven.

“They are going for something and they need results to get in the play-off positions,” said Bates.

“Wimbledon is always ahard game whether you are home or away or where they are in the table.

“But I don’t think we fear anyone now in this league.

“We’re on a good run and we want to keep that going and try to finish as high as we can.”

Bates looks set to line-up alongside Adam Jackson tomorrow after the pair played a major part in the clean sheets at Newport and Crawley.

And the former Boro servant has words of praise for the current Boro man.

“Jacko’s been great,” he said. “He’s been great from the moment he first came here.

“He’s still only young, he’s still learning.

“Even though he’s on onloan from Middlesbrough he has not come here with a chip on his shoulder.

“He wants to learn and he’s always asking questions and I enjoy playing with him.

“If he keeps going as he is, he has a terrific chance of going as far as he wants to go.”