Hartlepool boss Craig Hignett faces key questions this week

Toto Nsiala challenges Port Vale keeper Jak Alnwick
Toto Nsiala challenges Port Vale keeper Jak Alnwick

Spineless, like men against boys, embarrassing - just some of the descriptions of Hartlepool United’s performance at Port Vale in the FA Cup.

And that’s not even getting on to what the fans have said, just the words of Pools manager Craig Hignett.

Given his goals last season, he’d be a starter in many a side at League Two level.

It’s fair to say the manager has probably hit the nail on the head in summarising his players’ no-show at Vale Park yesterday afternoon.

It was the kind of performance that many a team, player, manager and fan would look at and write off, especially away from home against a side from a division above. Well, that is if it doesn’t happen too often.

Now while this is not yet a weekly occurrence at Pools, these type of performances are becoming more and more frequent. It’s difficult to deny the amount of poor goals they concede and off days they have is alarming.

So, in light of the 4-0 hammering at the hands of Vale, Pools boss Hignett has hinted that personnel changes in his side could be the answer.

But does the manager actually have the options to revamp his XI?

Here we take a look at four key areas the manager should look to address this week.

Right-back

This has been a problematic area for some time.

One thing we learned on Sunday was that Toto Nsiala is not the answer there.

Jordan Richards is a player who may well be called upon to step in again. At least he does not look out of sorts out there, much like Nsiala did at the weekend.

Pools need Liam Donnelly back fit as soon as possible. He is the best natural defender and footballer from the back at the club.

Centre-forward

In 40 minutes, Billy Paynter did more than every single Pools player on the pitch put together, even those on for the full 90.

Now, this could have been down to a number of factors.

When the 32-year-old came on the game was already won for Vale - they were 3-0 up at the time of his arrival.

Also it has to be remembered Paynter, who has been a fringe player at the Northern Gas & Power Stadium this season, was coming on against the club where it all started for him, a place close to his heart. He wouldn’t be the first player to raise his game on his old stomping ground.

But taking all of that out of the equation, is it not about time for Paynter to be given a run in the side?

Given his goals last season, he’d be a starter in many a side at League Two level.

Surely he has to be worth a try?

Centre-back

Should Rob Jones’ injury keep him out of action manager Hignett’s hand could well be forced in this area.

Nsiala could, of course, just slot straight back into the centre of defence. Scott Harrison also comes into the reckoning, having been one of the better players at Wycombe Wanderers. Donnelly could also be the answer, should he be declared fit.

Whoever gets the nod, they need to do a hell of a lot better than Pools backline did at the weekend.

Put simply the defending, as a team, was nowhere near good enough.

Midfield

The balance is just not quite right in Pools midfield.

Whether they play as a four, five or three there always seems to be something missing.

It may well be a midfield enforcer. Sadly Pools don’t have anything of the sort in their ranks. This needs to be addressed in the January window.

In the short-term, Hignett needs to find an answer. Pools have plenty of good players in this position, but throwing them all in together doesn’t seem to be working.

This decision falls firmly on the manager’s shoulders.