Craig Harrison believes Eastleigh will provide Hartlepool United’s toughest test yet

Pools Nicky Featherstone.
Pools Nicky Featherstone.

Eastleigh will be Hartlepool United’s toughest National League test yet - that’s the view of boss Craig Harrison.

Just when Pools thought they’d climbed their fifth their version of Mount Everest, claiming seven points in a week against Dagenham, Wrexham and Leyton Orient, the manager believes tomorrow’s clash is his side’s hardest to date.

“Tactically they are a good team,” he explained ahead of the visit of Richard Hill’s men to Victoria Park.

“They have some high profile players in their squad that have played Football League and higher. For that reason we know it is going to be tough.

“They have got a lot of experience, an experienced manager and historically they have been there or thereabouts in the Conference in the last few years.

“I would think they haven’t got off to the start they would have hoped for but we can’t underestimate them.

“This is the toughest game we have had.”

While Harrison is wary of an Eastleigh side littered with Football League talent, his own side are one of the form teams in the division.
Five unbeaten, four wins in that time against some of the top sides in the league and just two goals conceded. It’s fair to say it’s been some turnaround for Pools in recent weeks.

Defensive errors have all been cut out in that run, and Harrison is hoping for more of the same this weekend.

“We have done it three times this season - three out of 11 games. It is nearly 30% of the time we have shown that we can go behind and get something out of a game,” he said.

“You have got to be resilient but the importance on the first goal is the message we have sent to the players.

“The last thing we want to do is concede first. Once we have went ahead or equalised we have been hard to break down.

“There is a desire not to be beat, we just need to make sure we continue to give ourselves the best chance possible.”

Despite being one of the early season favourites for promotion, the Spitfires are on a winless run of six games, which has seen them overtaken by Pools, who had an identical run at the start.

All that said Pools, in 15th are just five points off the top, and Eastleigh, 16th, are seven.

“It is incredible,” said Harrison.

“It emphasises the start to the season. It has been manic.

“Teams have been beaten, heavily beaten to teams you wouldn’t expect all within an 11 game span.

“There are more points we should have and we would have been back up there.

“But we have picked up good results lately, we are on a good run and the work starts from ground zero.

“We did the basics well on Saturday at the start, we need to build on that.”

While Harrison has selection issues at the back ahead of tomorrow’s encounter, there is little doubt who he will pick in central midfield.

In recent weeks Michael Woods, Nicky Featherstone and Lewis Hawkins have been in outstanding form.

And Harrison has been delighted with his players, none of which were guaranteed starters in August.

“We have got two experienced players in there in Nicky and Woodsy and another player in Hawksy who has a lot of energy and played a lot of games last season. There is a lot of competition in there,” he said.

“We have Luke George who will come in at some point and Conor Newton who started the season. We decided to change things a while back and the lads who came in really took their chance.

“That is the way it has go to be. It is not the player that they are it is the way that they perform which gets them selected.”