Big test for ‘new’ Hartlepool United with Accrington Stanley clash

Matthew Bates heads clear for Pools against York. Picture by Joe Spence
Matthew Bates heads clear for Pools against York. Picture by Joe Spence

Hartlepool United will get the chance to see how far they have travelled along their upward curve under Craig Hignett.

Pools have climbed from 22nd to 16th under Hignett, but tonight comes an acid test at Victoria Park.

We’re looking forward to it, there’s no reason why we can’t win

Matthew Bates

They lock horns with one of League Two’s most in-form and gifted sides - Accrington.

Pools struggled against Stanley in January just days after one of Ronnie Moore’s best results, a 1-0 victory over Wycombe.

But, a 4-1 drubbing at Bristol Rovers aside, Pools are now a “different” force under Hignett according to Matthew Bates.

Hignett was only appointed in February but has masterminded an amazing turnaround.

His record is eight wins, three draws and only five defeats, four of those being by a single goal margin.

It is, whisper it, play-off form when averaged out over a season.

And Bates says that tonight’s match with fourth-placed Accrington, followed by games against Oxford (a), Portsmouth (h) and Playmouth (a) are an indicator of what level Pools are now at.

“I think we are different team, not in terms of personnel, but the style of play and how we go about it,” said Bates.

“We’re looking forward to it, there’s no reason why we can’t win.

“We’re going to have a task on our hands but it will give us a guide of where we are for next season.

“It’s a gauge for us as players to see where we are at and a good gauge for the manager to see where his team is at ahead of next season.

“If we can come away from these four games with something and some good individual performances then the manager will know more about what he wants to do in the summer

“I’m sure he wants to push on next year.”

The approach of Hignett has come as no surprise to Bates, who was brought through the famed Middlesbrough Academy and played over 100 times for the club.

And the same goes for fellow centre-half Adam Jackson, who is currently on a season-long loan from Boro.

“We’re trying to play football and keep the ball,” said Bates.

“Me and Jacko having come from Middlesbrough, we’ve been brought up playing football that way, for me, that’s the only way you should play football.”

But the 29-year-old says the belief instilled by Hignett and right-hand-man Curtis Fleming, another Boro legend, has also been vital in how Pools have climbed the division.

“Confidence is the main thing, maybe a little bit of the new-manager-syndrome, when you pick up results and that’s been built on,” he added.