Hartlepool United v Dover Athletic big preview – Craig Hignett's thoughts and team news ahead of the National League clash at Victoria Park
Hartlepool United have another chance to climb into the National League play-off places this Saturday as they welcome Dover Athletic to Victoria Park (3pm kick-off).
Pools currently sit 11th in the table with 15 points from their opening 11 games while Dover sit two points and three places ahead in eighth.
Craig Hignett’s side are yet to break into the top seven so far this campaign despite having a couple of chances to do so in recent weeks.
A disappointing defeat last time out at Dagenham & Redbridge ended a five game unbeaten run as Pools now look to get things back on track on their return to Victoria Park against the Whites.
Despite their position in the table, Dover aren’t in the greatest of form with just one win in their last five outings. Their previous match saw a 1-1 draw against struggling Chorley at Crabble Athletic Ground.
Injuries have plagued Hartlepool’s season so far with no less than six players sidelined for the match. Fraser Kerr (foot) was brought off during last weekend’s defeat at Dagenham and looks set for a period on the sidelines following a scan.
Zach Hemming (back) and Niko Muir are the other two new injuries with the latter suffering a hamstring set-back following his return in last week’s friendly against Carlisle United.
Myles Anderson (concussion), Luke Williams (knee) and Luke Molyneux (leg) – who scored a late winner when the sides last met – remain sidelined.
Dover’s one injury worry is Bobby-Joe Taylor who is a doubt for the trip but could potentially feature after missing the last half-dozen games.
Andy Hessenthaler’s side are set to line-up with former Pools midfielders Michael Woods and Jack Munns on Saturday afternoon.
And Hignett is expecting a typical National League test as he assesses his opposition.
“They’re the same as every other team in this league, they’re hard working and they’ll have a go,” he said.
“It depends what type of day you get them on and that goes for all the teams including us. But I think if we do things properly and play the way we can then there’s no reason why we can’t win the game.
“I certainly won’t be going into any game being frightened of the opposition having seen the league.
“Dover will be thinking exactly the same thing, there’s no reason why they can’t come up here and get a positive result but it’s just going to be one of those games where you’ll have to earn the right and match people for their effort and work rate and hope your quality comes through and your big players turn up on the day.”
Despite Pools’ mid-table position in the fifth tier after 11 matches, they currently sit above all five teams who made the play-offs last season.
And Hignett feels that’s just indicative of how tough the National League is this season.
“It shows how competitive it is, there will be teams who will go on a run of winning games and hopefully we’ll be one of those teams as well because we’ve shown we’re capable of it and we need to do it again, starting against Dover,” he added.
“I think the league is going to be really tight until the very end.
“The league is upside down in many ways because you’d expect some of the teams near the bottom to be near the top and some of the teams near the top have done really well and you’d expect some of them to be a bit lower.
“A team at the bottom can beat a team at the top on any given day in this league, you couldn’t predict this league and there’s no bankers in this league.
“I don’t look at league position, I look at performances of the teams to see how they’re playing. That’s what I’ll judge teams and games by.”
After last Saturday’s set-back, Hartlepool will welcome back-to-back home games in quick succession as they look to take full advantage against Dover and Chesterfield.
Pools beat both at The Vic last season with the dramatic 3-2 win over Dover back in March proving to be one of the few highlights in an otherwise underwhelming campaign.
“These will be two games where we’ll need to work as hard as we have in the previous five before Dagenham, if we do that then I’m sure we’ll have positive results,” he continued.
“Two positive results and everything is happy and I want to win two games at home and the lads are capable of that.
“But it’s all right saying it, you’ve got to go out and do it and put the effort and work rate in and do things properly.
“If we do that then we’ll have a good chance of winning those games but we can’t turn up and think we’re at home, we’ll be all right because then we won’t be.”
Dover had a reputation of being one of the nastiest and toughest opponents to come up against in the National League in recent seasons. And that’s something Hignett has tried to implement into his side.
“I want us to be nasty in the right way, we want to be competitive, we don’t want teams to steamroller us and I don’t think they will,” he commented.
“Dover aren’t really like that anymore and they’ve got some good footballers who can play so I just think it’ll be an open game though when we don’t have the ball I don’t want it to be too open.”