HARTLEPOOL United are being tipped for promotion this season - by former assistant manager Craig Hignett.
Pools currently sit 9th in Sky Bet League Two just five points outside the play-offs with two months of the season left to play.
And Hignett, who left this week to become Aitor Karanka’s new Number 2 at Middlesbrough, says there is no reason why Colin Cooper’s men cannot string together a run of wins and get into the top seven come May.
The 44-year-old Scouser said Pools are making a concerted effort to “really” push for the play-off places and that was boosted by Saturday’s 3-0 win over Torquay United at Victoria Park.
“I do think Pools can reach the play-offs”, said the former Boro, Blackburn and Barnsley forward.
“We decided we were going to have a really good push for them.
“Pools are at the stage of the season now where they have to win games and the team is certainly good enough to go on a run and push themselves into the play-offs.
“It will be difficult but to be just five points off at this stage is a good position.
l TURN to Page 47
“They are the type of team that can go on a run, win five or six games like they did in October, and it could be an exciting end to the season.”
Saturday’s victory over The Gulls was thanks to goals from on-loan Manchester United forward Jack Barmby, Luke James and Marlon Harewood all netting.
James scoring his 14th goal of the season was a fitting way for Hignett to end his nine-month stay at The Vic, with the pair spending a lot of time together on the training pitch.
But Hignett said his development is down to Cooper as much as him.
“We have both put a lot of work into Luke and he has come on leaps and bounds,” said Hignett.
“He has been very dangerous and a real threat - he has been fantastic.
“He is an example to any young lad in the game with his attitude but you could say that about the likes of Bradley Walker, Michael Duckworth as well and Jack Baldwin that left.
“There are some real bright young players there and it was a really tough decision to go.”
Hignett told SportMail yesterday that he couldn’t turn down the opportunity at Middlesbrough and that he went with the full support of Cooper after handing in his notice late on Monday afternoon.
He said he understands why the fans will be disappointed but hopes his move will further strengthen the bond between Pools and Boro.
The Championship side have played some of their reserve team matches at The Vic this season, while Pools have benefited from having defender Christian Burgess and midfielders Matty Dolan and Luke Williams on loan this season.
Hignett added: “I can understand that the fans will be disappointed.
“But hopefully it will [strengthen the bond].
“Pools have had some really good young players this year from Boro and they have done fantastic for the club - it has been a real positive influence.
“The loan players have been really positive and hopefully that will continue.”
His role at Boro will be to make Karanka’s life a little easier, when it comes to scouting, training, team selection and on match days, similar to the one he held at Hartlepool United.
But Hignett is looking forward to his new challenge, which he admits is a “learning curve”.
“It is a new start for me,” said the 44-year-old.
“I will have to earn the trust of the manager first and then hopefully as time goes on I’ll have a bit more influence.
“It is early days. I am here to assist Aitor in everything he wants to do.”
Hignett from Huyton, on Merseyside, played for Middlesbrough between 1992 and 1998.