Hartlepool United v Portsmouth: Paynter back for Pools, Pompey down to one fit keeper
Talisman Billy Paynter will be back for Hartlepool United against Portsmouth tomorrow '“ and looking to add to his goal tally.
The 15-goal striker’s season looked as good as over when he limped off with a hamstring problem in the second half of the 1-0 defeat at Carlisle on the first Tuesday of this month.
But the 31-year-old, aided by the healing hands of head physio Ian Gallagher, has made a quicker-than-expected recovery to be fit for the last Saturday in April.
While Pools won 5-2 at Morecambe in his first game out, the side have been hit and miss without him, winning two and losing three.
“Billy coming back is a boost for everyone,” said Hignett.
“He is important to how we play and when you are having an off-day in the final third, he can get hold of the ball, keep it, let players join in and get us further up the pitch.
“But the lads have done great – we went to Morecambe without him and scored five, but we struggled a little bit at Notts County and Oxford in the final third.”
Hignett has finished his end-of-season tinkering, probably.
He is unlikely to give any further exposure to fringe men – the only possible exception may be him having a check on Scott Fenwick, who has come back from a loan spell at Tranmere.
Hignett will be looking for results in these final two matches, against promotion-chasing Pompey and Plymouth.
That will mean Paynter starting tomorrow, flanked by Nathan Thomas and Luke James or Jake Gray.
While Pools have missed the skipper, Hignett insists watching Pools minus Paynter has taught him much.
“It’s been good for me to see for me what we have and what we need,” he added.
Hignett will probably field the same back four from the 2-0 defeat at Oxford plus the midfield triumvirate which impressed at the Kassam Stadium.
Paynter’s presence could be key as Hignett hopes to turn quality into goals.
“We were really good with the ball,” said the boss.
“I think the stats were something like 58% possession for us and 42 to them, but we lacked a cutting edge to make it count.
“That was the difference, but I think 2-0 flattered them.
“Their last goal would not happen in normal time, we wouldn’t usually have a centre-half taking a throw-in.
“That’s what happens when you are chasing and we were un-done.
“It was disappointing we didn’t make the pressure tell.”
Portsmouth are down to their last fit keeper with Brian Murphy taking over from Paul Jones, who has been ruled out for the rest of the season after tearing his thigh in the 1-0 midweek win at Wimbledon.
Conor Chaplin (groin) and Jack Whatmough (back) have recovered from injuries to return to the squad but will probably have top make do with places on the bench.
Marc McNulty (hamstring) and Adam Webster (ankle) are definitely out, while Kyle Bennett (foot) is a doubt.
Striker Michael Smith will play his final game before ending a three-month loan spell from Swindon.
Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain, brother of Arsenal and Engalnd ace Alex, and son of Pompey legend Mark, will be on the bench.
Pools (probable): Carson, Magnay, Bates, Jackson, Carroll, Featherstone, Woods, Hawkins, James, Paynter, Thomas.
Subs (from): Bartlett, Duckworth, Richards, R Jones, Laurent, Gray, Walker, Bingham, Oates, Fenwick.
Portsmouth (probable): Murphy, Davies, Barton, Burgess, Stevens, Doyle, Hollands, Evans, Naismith, Roberts, Smith
Subs: McGurk, May, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Close, Haunstrup, Chaplin, Whatmough