Four issues facing Hartlepool United boss Craig Hignett

Pools players react after Cambridge's fourth goal
Pools players react after Cambridge's fourth goal

With Craig Hignett admitting that incomings are unlikely at Pools this winter, without any significant departures, it could be a bleak few months ahead at the Northern Gas & Power Stadium.

Basically Hignett has to work with what he has got, with purse strings tightening somewhat at struggling Hartlepool.

The decision to play Nicky Featherstone off the front wasn’t one of Hignett’s better ones

In light of that, the manager must get the best out of his current crop in order for Pools to stave off any fears of relegation this campaign.

But, without stating the obvious too much, which problem areas must be addressed at Pools ahead of the weekend trip to Portsmouth?

Here we take a look at four issues for the gaffer to look at pre-Fratton Park.

Changes at centre-half?

Injury, suspension and a lack of form has meant that continuity in the Pools backline has been non-existent this campaign.

The gaffer has tried a number of different formations, systems and personnel, none of which seem to have worked for any period of time.

Matthew Bates, who carries little blame in the five goal collapse at the weekend, seems to be defending alone at times.

The big problem was Toto Nsiala.

And moving forward I’d be shocked if we didn’t see Scott Harrison, who also has his limitations, thrown in against Pompey.

Pools really would have been better off with 10 men against Cambridge, than with Nsiala, who had a shocker from start to finish, at the heart of defence.

Work out who his best full-backs are and stick with them ...

Liam Donnelly came in at right-back, to be Pools fourth in as many games.

At left-back James Martin was preferred to Jake Carroll, who was dropped to the bench for the second time in as many weeks.

I have my own opinion on who Pools best two full-backs are, but at the end of the day I do not see each player every day in training.

Only the manager can decide who he thinks can plug the gaps the best.

I think as a natural footballer Martin looks like he could grow in to a very decent player for Pools, but he is still young and learning the game.

In a struggling team it may be too much, no matter what the lad’s character is like, to rely on him week-in, week-out. Being young, he will make mistakes.

That is why Carroll could be the better option, in the high pressure situation Pools find themselves.

I think there is little doubt that Donnelly is a quality operator. But just where he best serves Pools is the manager’s call.

Midfield balance...

As far experiments go, the decision to play Nicky Featherstone off the frontman wasn’t one of Hignett’s better ones.

I’m almost certain we won’t see a re-run on the south coast.

Things aren’t right in there, though, and Hignett, for me, was right to change it.

Nicky Deverdics, or even Josh Laurent, might have been better suited in the role.

To play Billy Paynter, or not?

Poolies had been calling for it and the manager, eventually, delivered.

But did club captain Paynter? I think he did. He gave Pools a focal point in attack. Sadly, the player tasked with providing service to the 32-year-old goal-getter let the side down.

Paynter needs a four or five game run to show his worth, not just a game here or a cameo off the bench there.

I’d like to see him partnered with Padraig Among, who looked out of sorts out wide.