Hartlepool boss hopes to have a full squad to choose from for Dover opener

Craig Harrison.
Craig Harrison.

Craig Harrison hopes to have a full squad to choose from when Hartlepool United launch their National League programme this week.

Pools open their promotion bid on Saturday when they host Dover Athletic at Victoria Park.

With the pre-season friendly schedule ending with an unbeaten weekend, the manager now has an unhindered week on the training ground at Maiden Castle to get the squad ready for the opening game in the division.

Rhys Oates could be set for a return from a groin problem and with Luke George and Devante Rodney having returned from injury at the weekend, Harrison could have a clean bill of health in his squad.

Rodney, whose two goals on the last Saturday of the season came so close to keeping Pools in the Football League, would be an outside bet to feature against Dover.

But the teenage forward got the last 15 minutes at Whitley Bay on Saturday, with George coming through the first half of the 1-1 draw at Hillheads with no ill-effects from his calf trouble.

“Luke was available very late on in the week,” said Harrison, who praised the work done by physio, Phil Bulmer, and strength and conditioning coach, Craig Hubbard in getting the wounded troops fit again.

“He ended up being fitted in a very unfamiliar centre-back role.

“It was about getting minutes into him and seeing the reaction afterwards following his injury.

“Luke said after the game that he could have played longer, but we have taken the right steps.

“If he gets in a full week of training and he’s available for selection come training on Friday then Craig and Phil have done a great job with him.

“I’ve said to Phil and Craig to make my job as hard as possible – get everyone as fit as they can then pass them over to me to make the decisions from there.”

While Friday night’s fine 2-1 win over Middlesbrough has put that side in pole position for selection, the boss faces a tricky process.

Striker Jake Cassidy came through his first 90 minutes at Whitley Bay, where he looked a threat and Nicky Featherstone continued his progress followiong hernia surgery.

“It was important for Jake to get 90 minutes,” he said. “He probably missed seven to 10 days and two games [with a hamstring niggle}.

“He’d not passed the 45 minute threshold so it was good to get 90 on Saturday.

“It was good that Devante to get some minutes and Nicky Featherstone got just over 70.

“We’re pushing on and gradually getting people back to where we want them to be.”

Harrison told SportMail that NOT having any more friendlies will work to the advantage of the squad so they can have a sustained week of training.

“We need everyone fit and fresh for a very long first month,” he said.

“There is stuff the lads can do in training.

“Sometimes you have to be careful about playing games because the day before you don’t do an awful lot of training, it’s more game-prep.

“The day after a game is about recovery so really a player would end up missing two sessions.

“But by having no friendly this week the lads are going to get four or five sessions before Saturday’s game.”