Five questions facing Pools' boss Craig Hignett ahead of Carlisle visit

Craig Hignett.
Craig Hignett.

Hartlepool United boss Craig Hignett is facing up to a number of selection dilemmas ahead of this afternoon's visit to Carlisle.

By the gaffer's own admission, last weekend's Crawley Town draw was the most disappointing performance his players have dished up since Stevenage in September.

Down to the bare bones over the last few weeks, things are starting to look a little brighter for Hignett, too, who has a number of players returning from injury and international duty, for the trip to Brunton Park.

And looking to extend their unbeaten stretch to seven games, the gaffer could conceivably make a few changes.

Here we take a look at the areas the Pools boss might mix things up.

Where does Liam Donnelly fit into Pools XI?

Without doubt Donnelly, who has played right across the back four in the last few weeks, has been one of the stand out performers for Pools this season.

And fresh off the back of him skippering Northern Ireland Under-21s he's a certainty to come back into the side.

But where is the question?

Last week Pools' backline was outstanding against Crawley.

Toto Nsiala was a colossus in the centre and is nailed on to start.

Jordan Richards was praised heavily by the manager in the week and it seems unlikely he will be the one to drop out.

That leaves just Jake Carroll and Scott Harrison.

Carroll was at fault for Town's equaliser late on, getting the wrong side of goalscorer James Collins before clumsily bringing him down.

That error could have put him at risk. Although, to be fair, he was decent in every other department, bar that momentary loss of concentration.

Harrison is probably the favourite to suffer the drop. But again barring a few shaky moments at the start last Saturday he formed a decent partnership with DR Congo international Nsiala.

His last gasp goal-saving challenge essentially won a point for Pools, but if I were a betting man I'd guess it will be Harrison who is benched to find room for youngster Donnelly.

Will Michael Woods return?

Having missed a month with a knee problem it would be a big risk by Hignett to throw Woods in from the start.

But having got 65 minutes under his belt in the week for the reserves a place on the Pools bench is not out of the question for the talented midfielder.

And even if he is only able to come off the bench the return of Woods to the fold would give Hignett another option in a midfield which is looking a touch light with doubts over Nicky Deverdics and Nicky Featherstone serving the final game of a three match suspension for his red card against Luton Town.

Should Padraig Amond continue up top?

Having netted twice at his former club a week previous Irishman Amond was anonymous against Crawley Town.

To be fair to him, any striker is only ever as good as their service and the balls up to Amond did not suit him one bit.

But still it has called for many to wonder why last season's top scorer and club captain Billy Paynter can't get a run in the side.

Even some of the kids have been thrown into the side before Paynter recently.

Will Hignett turn to Paynter this time around? Probably not, especially away from home.

Even if things aren't going well for Amond he puts a shift in. He never stops hassling and harrying defenders. For that reason he'll get the nod at Brunton.

Does Adam Bartlett drop out of the team?

This is one of the easier decisions for Hignett to make.

While Bartlett has been impressive in his last two games it is a no-brainer to bring Trevor Carson back into the side.

The goalie, who has been away with the Northern Ireland senior side, has managed to win points alone with some of the saves he has made.

The remarkable double stop at Grimsby, just before he went away with Michael O'Neill's men, springs to mind.

While Bartlett had done well, he just isn't Carson.

And the keeper himself even knows that.

Does Rhys Oates deserve a crack of the whip?

All the talk in post-match on Wednesday was of Woods' return to action when the reserves met Mansfield.

Woods was definitely not the talk after it.

Oates stole the show with a brilliant hat-trick on his return to Pools from a loan spell at fifth tier Gateshead.

Amond will start up top with Paynter chief support but after that show is he worth a shot on the bench this weekend? Well, there is one player probably standing in his way.

Newcastle United loan player Tom Heardman has been Pools' third choice striker in recent weeks.

It's fair to say, despite a couple of bench cameos and 90 minutes in the Checkatrade Trophy defeat to Sunderland Under-23s, Heardman's achievements - two goals - in the second string have already been surpassed by Oates.

The frontman has first-team experience and coming off the back of a remarkable performance in midweek the time might just be right for him to come back into the Pools reckoning.