Hartlepool United manager Craig Hignett is demanding more from players who are knocking on his door
With no wins in four and just two unforced changes to the starting XI in that time, Hartlepool United players are knocking on Craig Hignett’s door.
Pools are currently on their longest winless run in the National League since Hignett returned as manager in January 2019 and will be looking to stop the rot at Eastleigh on Saturday (3pm kick-off).
Their recent form has seen them slip away from play-off contention and down to 17th in the table, the same position they finished in the fifth tier back in April.
Injuries and suspensions have forced Hignett to make a few alterations to his side recently but otherwise things have been kept fairly consistent with unprompted changes being kept to a minimum.
As a result, Hignett has spent time dealing with some slightly frustrated members of his squad.
“I’ve got plenty knocking on my door, some rightly, some wrongly,” he confirmed.
“I’ve got no problem with the characters in my squad and to be fair, I haven’t had any real sulkers.
“The lads have been good that way but you need someone to come in and back up why they should be in the team.
“Back it up with something, whether that’s a performance, whether that’s training. That’s what I’m after.
“We’ve said it at the start of the season, I don’t want standards to stay the same. I want standards to rise and I want people to realise that standards are only gonna rise by us working together.
“That’s the message I’m sending out and I won’t accept anyone who isn’t with it, who isn’t together, who’s not with the other lads – you’re only as strong as your weakest link.”
One of the players who could have a case for a return to the starting line-up is forward Luke James, who was unfortunate to be dropped from the side during their three game winning run.
Pools have won each of the last two matches in which the 24-year-old has started but he’s since been limited to a few brief cameos from the bench.
Some would argue James’ 88th minute introduction in Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw against Chesterfield should have came 20-minutes earlier.
But Hignett defended the decision as he wants to see more from his players.
“Luke needs to impress me in training so he needs to train as hard as he can and make the decision for me hard to put him back in,” added the Pools manager.
“He’s had a stop-start spell with him having the baby which meant he missed a few but when he gets his chance he’s got to make sure I can’t leave him out.
“At the minute, it’s not just Luke but no one’s doing that. We went on a five-game run where it was easy for me to pick the team and no one deserved to come out.
“Now we’re on a run where people are making it easy for me to leave him out and I’ve got people who’ve sat and been patient who deserve their chance.
“Not all of them have had their chance yet so all I’d say to those who aren’t in the team is ‘train well, train hard and make it hard for me not to pick you’.
“I think that’s modern football for you, people always think they should be in the team and if they’re not in the team it’s through no fault of their own.
“It’s either my fault for not picking them or it’s so and so’s fault for not doing this. People have just got to take responsibility.
“You know if you’re not playing well and you know if you deserve to be in the team or not. I’m not gonna fluff it with people, I’m gonna be honest with people like I always have been.
“If they deserve to be in the team I’ll hold my hands up and say ‘yeah you do’ and if they don’t I’ll be open and honest so, like I’ve said to them, if you’re scared of the answer don’t ask the question.
“My door’s always open, people can speak to me if they’ve got a problem. We’ve got the type of squad now where I don’t have to pussyfoot around people, I can tell people what I feel and no one’s bigger than the football club.
“We’re trying to build a togetherness here but the togetherness can only work if the players who aren’t involved buy into what you’re doing. If one or two don’t then it can all come down.”
Before the season started, Hignett expected his biggest challenge to be keeping everyone happy and that is certainly proving to be the case.
“That’s always gonna be the issue I think,” continued the 49-year-old.
“Everyone’s different, every player’s different. Some players are desperate to play and want to play every week, some players find it really hard to deal with being out of the team and some players are really professional.
“We’ve got a mix so it’s about keeping them lads happy. No one’s been a problem, everyone’s been fine up to now.
“There are some disappointed people but as long as that doesn’t show in performances on the pitch or togetherness in the group or how they’re approaching training, I’m fine with that.”