Hartlepool United analysis: Craig Hignett working wonders to keep purposeless Pools motivated
Motivation. It’s something any manager struggles with when his team have little or nothing to play for.
A cup run gets fire in the belly, so to a promotion or title race, a relegation fight can have the same impact, to the right kind of player, of course.
Pools have nothing of the sort on the agenda.
And that’s the major problem for manager Craig Hignett.
How do you keep players playing when there is nothing tangible to achieve with their efforts come the end of the season?
So far, Hignett has played a very clever game.
By this point he knows exactly who he wants to keep in his squad next season. He also knows his budget, who he can afford and who he might have to let go.
But the one thing he has so far refused to do is reveal to anyone exactly what he has planned for what again looks like being a busier than expected summer at the Super 6 Stadium.
That has quite clearly kept the ball very much in the players’ court at Pools. They are all playing for contracts, with very, very few in the squad with guaranteed futures at Hartlepool United.
And the result has been that Pools are playing for their manager.
There will come a point where that may run out - players may already be looking elsewhere, if they get the feeling the manager is not putting his cards on the table.
But for the time being, there’s no sign of that. The clash at Aldershot was the perfect example of that.
Much to Hignett’s frustrating Pools, yet again, had to come from behind to claim a point.
But what they again showed in doing so was a fight, commitment and never say die spirit.
This team never know when they’re beaten - and that’s no bad ethos for the manager and his players to take into next season.
Yes, this was not the routine win anyone had expected. But this division has proven time and time again that you get nothing for free.
Even when you face a team in difficulty, which the Shots clearly were on Saturday, it’s not a given that three points will be a walk in the park.
Pools played against a team fighting for their lives, whose efforts were deemed pointless by the end with relegation to the National League South confirmed, and still kept that fire burning.
They walked way disappointed not to take three points from the EBB Stadium.
On to the action, it was new boy Gavan Holohan who proved to be the stand out perfomer on the day.
He was handed his first start for Pools by Hignett, and delivered with a late equaliser to keep Hartlepool’s end of season points tally ticking over - although that is another thing which, in the grand scheme of things, will matter little.
After just four minutes the midfielder went close to opening up his account for the club, but his 25-yard jinking run came to an end when his goal-bound shot was blocked.
Nicke Kabamba also went close with a low strike before, totally against the run of play, the Shots edged in front.
The hosts netted with their first attack as Bernard Mensah’s shot was blocked but fell kindly to Grant, who applied the easiest of finishes from close range for 1-0.
Pools could, and should, have been level midway through the opening half as an inch-perfect Peter Kioso cross was headed wide by Kabamba.
While Pools were almost level, they were close to being a even further out of sight as goalscorer Grant missed an opportunity to double his tally when he fired over from an almost identical spot to where he scored from.
The impressive Holohan ended the half with a wayward attempt at goal as Pools again left themselves with a mini-mountain to climb, should they want to walk away with at least a share of the spoils against a side who looked doomed to relegation to the National League South.
In the second period Scott Loach had to be at his very best to deny Grant before Nicky Featherstone was denied a certain goal when his goal-bound shot was unfortunately blocked by Kabamba.
As the game wore on Pools, who changed shape to a midfield diamond, began to turn the screw as the hosts retreated into their shell.
Luke James broke the offside trap but saw his shot blocked. Luke Molyneux then went close, but Will Mannion was equal to his low effort.
But when it looked like Pools would miss out narrowly again, and the Shots would keep their fifth tier relegation fight going for another week at least, Holohan popped up to nod in a late leveller and ensure Pools got the point their performance deserved.