FIVE key decisions for Hartlepool United boss Matthew Bates

Former Hartlepool manager Matthew Bates.
Former Hartlepool manager Matthew Bates.

Hartlepool United boss Matthew Bates faces a number of decisions this week ahead of his side’s return to National League action.

Will he stick or twist with the 4-4-2? Who will he select up front? And what defender’s will get the nod against Barnet?

Sunday is set to be an intriguing day on the selection front for Bates and here we take a look at the big calls ahead of the Bees clash.

*SYSTEM/FORMATION

This has been a bone of contention with fans for some time.

Many have been desperate for Bates to change his tried and tested 3-5-2 formation and last weekend against Barnet he did.

But the big questions is now he’s made the change, will he revert back to type or stick with the team that served him so well in the FA Cup?

Pools had a real balance to their play in Kent and it looked like there were less square pegs in round holes, especially on the flanks.

Were it down to me it would be an emphatic thumbs up to 4-4-2 but Bates has been happy with the way his team have adapted to the 3-5-2 this season, too.

*DEFENCE

We all know that Scott Loach picks himself so debate on the goalkeeper is pointless at this stage.

He is by far the best keeper I have seen this season at this level, but who is picked in front of him is open to interpretation.

Skipper Andrew Davies is out of the game due to his red card at Wrexham and Carl Magnay joins him on the sidelines having picked up his fifth booking in the 4-0 loss to Bromley a fortnight ago.

Without his two most senior defenders, Bates will be forced into fielding a relatively inexperienced backline at the weekend with Myles Anderson likely to partner the returning Peter Kioso in the centre.

Will Kenton Richardson continue? His performance last weekend was promising to say the least and it seemed to suit him better not having to play wing-back, as was asked of him earlier in the season.

Bates does have James Butler waiting in the wings if he wants to go back to a three.

*CENTRAL MIDFIELD

Liam Noble and Nicky Featherstone were top class at Gillingham and were this game away from home this would not even be a question.

But on home turf do Pools need a little more from the central pair? Could Michael Woods or Conor Newton offer something different?

We have seen Noble, in particular, return to his very best of late and it may well be a surprise for the manager to change a partnership that clearly works.

*WIDE AREAS
The decision to be made here is whether Bates decides to stick with a 3-5-2 or a 4-4-2.

Should he stick with the four then it seems likely he will opt to continue with Ryan Donaldson and Paddy McLaughlin.

If he goes back to the five-man midfield it is likely to see Donaldson remain on the right and Mark Kitching go left.

Kitching put in his best performance in a Pools shirt against the Gills, the same could be said of McLaughlin.
That’s why sticking with a 4-4-2 seems like a more comfortable fit.
*FORWARDS

This is probably where the manager’s biggest decision is to be made.

Last weekend at Gillingham the manager decided to drop Niko Muir and bring back Luke James to the starting XI to partner Marcus Dinanga.

On the day James did himself no harm with his performance, playing on the shoulder and giving the home defenders a real headache.

James always adds that nuisance factor, but the criticism levelled his way is his lack of goals - he’s scored just one this season.

Muir, with five goals to his name, is likely to come back in and it’s a big call who plays alongside him.

Bates made sure he praised the cameo of Middlesbrough loan man Tyrone O’Neill in the aftermath of the Priestfield draw.

Could it be that the Boro youngster is thrown in from the off? He certainly offers something different.