Hartlepool United boss Craig Hignett on Blackburn Rovers shortlist

Gary Coxall will hope his close working relationship and shared ambitions with his manager will keep Craig Hignett at Hartlepool United.

Thursday, 12th May 2016, 12:01 am
Updated Thursday, 12th May 2016, 2:25 am
Hartlepool United manager Craig Hignett during the 3-1 away win at Barnet, one of Pools' great awaydays. Picture by Dan Westwell

Hignett has emerged as the odds-on favourite for the vacant job at Blackburn Rovers.

SportMail understands there has been no approach from the Sky Bet Championship outfit, whose boss, Paul Lambert quit after only six months in charge at Ewood Park.

Pools chairman Coxall issued an immediate response on Twitter after the Mail broke the news on our website yesterday.

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The JPNG man, who installed Hignett as manager in February to succeed the sacked Ronnie Moore, tweeted: “Just to reassure everyone... No one has made an approach and will get told ‘hands off’ if they even try.”

While nothing official has come out of Ewood Park, SportMail believes that the Pools boss is on the shortlist drawn up by Blackburn.

Hignett’s stunning debut in management has not gone unnoticed, having lifted Pools from a relegation-threatened side to finishing 16th in League Two, playing some excellent football to boot.

It is understood Rovers want a manager with the ability to motivate players and bring the best out of young talent and Hignett ticks both boxes.

The new Blackburn boss will be working to a reduced budget next season, following the end to the club’s parachute payments from the Premier League, and there will be little scope for major purchases.

Hignett is also a former Rovers player, having helped the side back to the Premier League in 2001 while coming on as a sub when they won the League Cup 12 months later.

But Coxall will hope that Hignett’s desire to turn Pools into a football force will keep him at Victoria Park.

Hignett has spoken of his “project here” and how “the chairman is backing me”.

The pair are close, so much so that the manager told the audienced of fans at last week’s end-of-season Pools awards ceremony that he has a “free rein” under Coxall.

Whether Hignett would have the same rapport with Blackburn’s owners, the Venky’s, is open to debate.

Job security is not a watchword at Ewood Park - the billionaire Indian family have had six managers in as many years, Lambert leaving after just 30 games in charge after activiting a clause in his contract.

Blackburn look in decent nick on the field, finishing 15th in the Championship, 19 points off the play-offs and 15 points above the drop zone.

It is not a million miles away from the job Hignett has done at the Vic.

Pools ended 16th, 24 points off the top seven and 17 points clear of the trapdoor.

He has won eight and drawn three of his 20 matches in charge, losing nine times, his record being damaged by four straight defeats at the ended of the season.

Pools fans will be alarmed at the prospect of losing their new boss, though they will hope his “project” and love of the club will keep him.

Meanwhile, Pools have announced their first pre-season friendly, at Salford City on Tuesday, July 26.

The clubs met twice this season, Pools winning 2-0 after extra-time in a tense FA Cup second-round replay in December, having drawn 1-1 at Moor Lane in the first match.