‘The Craig Hignett effect’ - FIVE key factors in Hartlepool United’s National League revival
Hartlepool United have lost just twice since Craig Hignett took the helm for the second time on a permanent, full-time basis.
That’s ten games. They’ve won four and claimed impressive points against promotion contenders Leyton Orient, Wrexham, Ebbsfleet United and Sutton United, the latter two away from home.
In a matter of weeks Pools look like a team transformed. But what’s been the secret to Hignett’s success?
Here our Pools writer Liam Kennedy takes a look at the five key changes the manager has made since his second coming at the Vic.
SYSTEM - FOUR TO A THREE
Pools, without fail, played three at the back prior to the arrival of Hignett back on the managerial scene.
Just once under Matthew Bates - in the FA Cup at Gillingham - and in the FA trophy at Leamington under Richard Money, did Pools really waver from their tried and tested 3-5-2.
Hignett has thrown that system out the window in recent weeks, opting to go to his own favourite formation - a 4-2-3-1.
And it’s fair to say it’s worked a treat.
INJECTION OF CONFIDENCE
It’s been said time and time again but it’s increasingly obvious to see out on the park - the players love playing for Hignett.
Money was like an old fashioned drill sergeant. His criticism was crippling for morale.
Hignett is not the type to criticise without good reason, he sees worth in praise - and it’s had just the right impact.
Pools’ players look freed from their shackles in recent weeks.
THE TRANSFORMATION OF NICKY FEATHERSTONE
Featherstone is a player who divides opinion among the Hartlepool fanbase.
From time to time I do wonder whether the midfielder could do more to have an impact on games, and he does struggle against quick, strong, agile opponents.
But saying that, there are few players with his technical ability at this level - and when he’s good, he’s very good. Saturday was one of those occasions. In fact, he’s been like that since Hignett came back on the scene.
I know the manager wants to take a look at Adam Bale and Gavan Holohan but on this form, he’d be hard pushed to drop Featherstone.
PLAY OUT FROM THE BACK
Direct football at this level wins points. Pools are a better team than that, though. They are built to pass it and move.
They’re not a team who can go from back to front in one ball - they do have the players to break at pace, though.
At their best, Pools are a very attractive team watch. Some of their one touch stuff on Saturday was top drawer.
The addition of the likes of Fraser Kerr, an accomplished football and defender, has helped in this regard.
JOSH HAWKES - A LAD WITH THE WORLD AT HIS FEET
I’ve said it before, I will say it again - Hawkes is a very special talent.
He was maybe not trusted by Bates and Money, he certainly is by Hignett.
He’s got nine goals in 26 games this season.
A few more between now and the end of next month and one or two bigger boys might be knocking on the door for a No 10 with all the tools to make a career at a much higher level than the National League.