Nicky Featherstone has become the all-round, all-action, all-conquering figure of Hartlepool United’s promotion-chasing team.
So says manager Craig Harrison who has been thrilled by the “outstanding” contribution of the midfielder during the side’s rise from second bottom to just two points off the play-off zone.
Featherstone has been doing what Featherstone does best for some time at Pools, making the team tick from his position in the middle of the park.
You could never accuse the 29-year-old of being a hatchet man.
Sure he picks up more than his fair share of possession by using his brain and positional sense, but he’s not been noted as a tackler.
Featherstone has been fully appreciated by all of his gaffers, Paul Murray, who signed him, Ronnie Moore, Craig Hignett, Dave Jones and now Harrison, even if some fans are quick to moan at the Yorkshireman.
Hignett even labelled the former Hull City product “the Xavi of League Two” during his reign at the Vic, in homage to the Barcelona star.
However, what has impressed the current Craig most is the player’s overall game having improved.
His influence can be gauged by just how far Pools have progressed from those trouble early weeks of the season.
Featherstone missed the start of the National League programme, having had a summer hernia op – surgery he had delayed in a bid to keep Pools in the Football League.
But once up to full fitness, the ex-Hull, Scunthorpe, Grimsby, Hereford and Walsall has been excellent in a run of only one defeat in nine National League fixtures.
“Nicky has been outstanding for the last four to five weeks,” Harrison told SportMail. “He’s really worked hard on his fitness. He’s also worked really hard on the side of the game you might not normally associate with Feaths.
“He’s won headers, he’s won tackles, as well as controlling games with the tempo. He’s been the cog which has made the team play well.
“When we get the ball down and pass it, he’s the conductor, the instigator.
“But on the other side of the game he’s broken up the opposition play, he’s tackled, he’s won headers, he’s protected the back four.”
Harrison says he is taking none of the credit for the enhancement of Featherstone.
The ex-Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace defender says the player himself has developed from clever footballer to all-round midfielder.
“I’ve never seen him pull out of a tackle and over the years I’ve seen a lot of players do that,” he said. “Tackling has perhaps not been Feaths’ game, but it should have been – he’s a midfielder
“Nicky hass played at a higher level and he’s experienced enough to know that we’re going to get more as a team and he’s going to get better as a player if he does everything.
“He’s worked hard on his fitness and his agility, he’s getting around the pitch better and he’s now winning more headers than he’s ever won. I think that’s just the mindset we have here.
“It would be too easy to go ‘ah well he’s not that type of player’ so he doesn’t have to do it’.
“No, I don’t buy into that sort of talk. If you are a winger and you want to play in one of my teams, you cover back or you don’t play.
“You have to do everything in football – I’m a big believer in that. You might get away with one player who does not have to do as much as the rest. I understand what you are saying about Feaths. He has been synonymous with the football side of it but I’ve been impressed with the other side.
“I knew he was a good footballer before I even came here. His attitude and desire to get the ball back, to tackle, to protect the back four has been a real bonus. He has been outstanding.”