Craig Hignett has placed the first pieces of his 2016-17 Hartlepool United jigsaw.
The Pools boss has handed contract extensions to in-form midfielder Lewis Hawkins and goalkeeper Adam Bartlett.
Hopefully he’s going to be a very important player for us so I am delighted he’s shown his commitment by signing the contractCRAIG HIGNETT
And Hignett has also offered professional terms to one of the club’s brightest young talents, Jack Blackford.
Given the current campaign has three weeks still to run, starting with today’s League Two match against relegation strugglers York City, it is a statement of intent from Hignett.
Hawkins has been one of the key figures in the revival under Hignett.
The 22-year-old had been in and out of the side under both Ronnie Moore and Hignett this year, following his man-of-the-match display in the FA Cup thriller with Derby County.
But after coming on as a sub and impressing in the 4-1 debacle at Bristol City, he has been a permanent fixture ever since.
Hawkins inspired the start of the seven-match unbeaten run with two wonder goals in the 3-1 win at Barnet.
“It says a lot that he’s one of the first people we’ve gone to with a new contract offer,” said Hignett.
“Since he came back in to the team for that game at Barnet he hasn’t looked back.
“Hopefully he’s going to be a very important player for us so I am delighted he’s shown his commitment by signing the contract.”
Hawkins told SportMail yesterday that he is enjoying the faith shown in him by Hignett, not to mention his longest run in the side – Tuesday’s appearance at Notts County was his 10th in succession.
“He’s been fantastic since I came to the club,” Hignett told the Pools website.
“His attitude, commitment and willingness to learn and play the way we’re playing has been brilliant.
“His energy has been first class and that’s alongside the quality he has so he’s been a very effective player for us.”
Bartlett has yet to play under Hignett, but the Pools boss has seen enough from the Geordie to offer him an extended stay.
And the former Gateshead stopper has said yes.
Bartlett was an inspired capture by former boss Moore, who signed him on the recommendation of goalkeeping coach, Tony Caig.
The proof quickly became apparent after big summer signing, Trevor Carson, was injured in the eve of the season and Bartlett played his part in the four-match winning run which kicked off the campaign.
Bartlett ended up playing the opening 15 matches and retained the gloves for a short time even when Carson had regained his fitness.
“Trevor is probably the best keeper in League Two but Adam isn’t far behind,” said Hignett.
“It’s a difficult job when you’re a number two but Barts’ application and dedication has been first class.
“I would certainly have no worries about playing him.
“Having those two at the club means I think we have the best pair in the division, whichever way round they are.”
Teenage winger Blackford has been offered a first professional contract.
The 17-year-old has had an excellent season for Pools Youth Team and has flourished under head of youth, John Hewitson.
Blackford has gained the interest of both Manchester City and Aston Villa but Pools are looking to keep the youngster at the Vic.
Given the way Hignett encourages young talent, the club will be keen to develop the town youngster, who travelled with the first-team squad to Notts County for the experience of match-day.