Hartlepool United manager Craig Hignett discusses playing style and trying to emulate Liverpool

‘You can’t be stubborn and pigheaded and keep going if there’s something that’s not quite right, you’ve got to change it up.’

Thursday, 12th September 2019, 16:45 pm
Updated Thursday, 12th September 2019, 16:45 pm
Hartlepool United manager Craig Hignett before the Vanarama National League match between Barrow and Hartlepool United at the Holker Street, Barrow-in-Furness on Tuesday 3rd September 2019. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

Changing things up is exactly what Craig Hignett has done at Hartlepool United so far this season after watching his team get off to a slow start.

Three defeats in their opening five matches saw the Pools boss scrap the 4-3-3 in favour of a 3-5-2 formation which has yielded an impressive turnaround in form with the side unbeaten in the five games since.

Merseyside native Hignett is striving to model his side off European Champions Liverpool this season – hence the initial 4-3-3 focus. But he’s since adapted things to suit the players at his disposal.

Luke James in action for Hartlepool United on Tuesday afternoon (photo: Frank Reid).

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“We’re playing differently, we had to,” admitted the United manager.

“We’ve got a three at the back whereas Liverpool do it with a four but I think the principles are the same in terms of closing down and knowing when to go.

“We set traps and see if people fall into them and I think they have the last four or five games, it’s gone the way we thought it would. It’s pleasing that the lads are taking it on and doing it.

“Four at the back was the plan but with the results and the way we were conceding goals at the start meant we had to do something different.

Liam Noble of Hartlepool United celebrates with Gus Mafuta and Peter Kioso after scoring their first goal from the penalty spot during the Vanarama National League match between Hartlepool United and Woking at Victoria Park, Hartlepool on Saturday 7th September 2019. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News ).

“I know the players can play three at the back because they’re used to it and they’ve played it a lot. It probably suits the back lads better than it does the front lads because I think we look a lot more solid.

“If it suits the team and it suits the players then why change it? Coaches can have a preconceived way of how they want to play and I have, I want to play like Liverpool but you need the team to play it.

“You can’t be stubborn and pigheaded and keep going if there’s something that’s no quite right. So we went back to the five and we haven’t lost since we’ve done that.”

After a shaky opening few weeks, Pools now look a well drilled and hard to beat side following the formation change.

Jordan Henderson of Liverpool lifts the Champions League Trophy after winning the UEFA Champions League Final between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at Estadio Wanda Metropolitano on June 01, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Three wins and two draws in their last five has certainly been encouraging considering they could have quite easily won all five given the chances the created.

The current set-up invites opposing teams to come out and attack while Hartlepool plot the right time to break out with pace.

It’s worked well so far though Hignett is wary of teams cottoning on and looking to frustrate Pools rather than the other way around.

“I wouldn’t want to say it, but I haven’t seen a team sit back against us yet so that will probably come the more we play,” he commented.

“If I was watching us as the opposing manager I’d be careful when I’m attacking certainly but I think if teams do sit back then we’ve got the players who can break teams down anyway – at the moment it suits us to let teams have the ball.

“It can be frustrating to watch at times when it doesn’t look like we’re closing down but there’s a time and place for it and we set traps and we all know what we’re doing.

“Everything we thought in the summer about bringing these people in is paying off at the moment and the young lads are learning and benefitting from it.”

Hartlepool have had a rare week off from playing a competitive match ahead of Saturday’s trip to Dagenham & Redbridge though almost half of the first team squad were involved in a behind closed doors friendly at Victoria Park on Tuesday afternoon.

A Nicke Kabamba hat-trick and a well-taken strike from Gavan Holohan saw the home side to a 4-0 victory over League Two outfit Carlisle United.

And after a disappointing display in front of goal against Woking last time out, there’s no guessing what the focus has been on in training.

“It’s been good this week in training for us,” Hignett continued.

“We’ve got minutes into the lads who haven’t been playing but we’ve also done some very focused and specific coaching which you don’t always do.

“We’ve had the 11 who played that we could work with on different bits with and obviously the lads who are preparing for the game we could do bits with them as well.

“We’ve done a lot of finishing and a lot of one v ones this week. I’ve been talking to the lads about it but I know if we keep creating those chances we’ve got lads who can put them away but they have to put them away otherwise someone else will come in.

“Nicke Kabamba came in and scored a hat-trick with the chances we created so we should be scoring more than we have.

“I wanted us to play the same way [against Carlisle] because at the moment it looks like the way to go for us and I want everyone to know their jobs and roles so that they can just slot in seamlessly.

“We’re always striving to be better, I’m not happy with picking up just a point any more, that’s where we are as a club.

“We want to win every game that we play and if we play to the best of our abilities then we will win games.”