Craig Hignett reflects on his own performance as Hartlepool United manager following difficult start to the National League season

It's three defeats in five National League matches for Hartlepool United, but who's to blame?

Thursday, 22nd August 2019, 17:00 pm
Hartlepool United manager Craig Hignett during the Vanarama National League match between Hartlepool United and Bromley at Victoria Park, Hartlepool on Saturday 17th August 2019. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

The players must obviously take their fair share of it, but for most, the buck stops at the manager's door.

Craig Hignett is the one who selects the team, sets them up and attempts to organise them throughout the game. While he cannot legislate for the costly individual errors that have been littered throughout Pools' opening five matches, he will take some responsibility as manager.

The United boss has been outspokenly critical of modern footballers over the past week or so. Questioning everything from their attitudes and ambition to their desire to get back fit and playing.

These comments may be viewed as the pressure starting to show for Hignett given the disappointing start. But in switching to his own performance and reflecting on himself as a manager, it's apparent that Hignett is simply someone who wants to see people strive to be the best they can be.

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The former Middlesbrough player is currently into his second full-time spell as Hartlepool manager having previously spent time at the club as director of football.

And regardless of his obvious affinity with the club and the area, Hignett openly admitted his ambitions extend beyond Pools.

"I don’t want to coach here all my life," he revealed.

"But I know for a fact if I don’t get better I’ll lose my job so I have to be better as well. I have to do more and have to work hard.

"I don’t just go home gutted and then on Monday I’m all right again. I’ll have a [rubbish] week this week, I will and I’ll get it from all over but that’s been a manager and that’s what you do."

Hignett conceded that he struggled to handle the pressure that came with being manager at Pools during his first spell where he was 'a bit confrontational' in the build-up to his sacking in January 2017.

While remaining as open as ever, the 49-year-old feels more calm and relaxed irrespective of the less than ideal start to the new season.

"I’m better equipped for it now than I was the first time, 100%," he admitted.

"It’s about not panicking as well when things are going against you because if you panic then [the board] will panic so you’ve got to be constructive with what you do."

Although he may feel like going on a verbal tirade following a disappointing defeat, Hignett knows he has to restrain himself and adopt a different approach given the nature of his players at the club.

"Gone are the days with the hairdryer because they’ll wilt, they’ll all wilt, there isn’t one in there that wouldn’t if it was constant," added the Hartlepool manager.

"I’ve got some strong characters who’ve been there before, Raynesy [Michael Raynes] is a strong character, Ryan Donaldson is a strong character but there’s plenty the other way.

"So you’ve got to be really careful but I’ve got a really good staff around me and we look at ourselves first and foremost and ask if we’re doing everything that we can.

"If we are, then is it the tactics, is it personnel and we go right down and see, is it the player’s mentality?

"Is it players who don’t want to do it or can’t do it but I know they can because I see it every day in training."

Hartlepool lost just two home matches under Hignett last season, a feat they have already matched after just three games at Victoria Park in 2019-20.

The raucous atmosphere at The Vic is something that Hignett welcomes as he feels it's a strong barometer for testing out the mentality of his players and bringing out the best in his side.

Though he also admitted some of his newer recruits will have to get used to playing in front of 3,000 screaming Poolies every other week.

"In football you get that, training ground players," he continued.

"Mark Hughes was the worst player I’ve ever seen on a training ground but you put him on a pitch on a Saturday and he was unbelievable.

"You get the other way as well, I got accused of being a training ground player when I first started at Boro and it took me a bit of time to get going.

"On the training ground, there’s no one shouting at you really and there’s no pressure, it doesn’t matter if you make a mistake.

"Here, you go from our training ground to The Vic, with our crowd especially and you can see who have got a bit about them and who hasn’t.

"Especially when times are bad and you’re going through a tough time and you can hear the crowd moaning or they’re having a go at you, that’s when you learn about players.

"It’s okay when everything’s going all right, everyone wants the ball but it’s when it’s not going well when you find out more about who has it and who hasn’t."

Hartlepool will be looking to recover from their unremarkable start to the season this weekend when they travel to Chorley on Saturday before hosting Wrexham at Victoria Park on Bank Holiday Monday (both 3pm kick-off).