Hartlepool United's 1-0 win at Maidenhead United analysed and assessed by Craig Hignett
When the full-time whistle blew at York Road on Saturday, a degree of pressure was lifted off Hartlepool United and the positivity returned – not that it ever went away for boss Craig Hignett.
Pools went into the game against an unbeaten Maidenhead United having lost their opening two matches of the campaign against Sutton United and Halifax Town.
While the opening two performances were lacking in some respects, Hartlepool were still able to control large parts of the game and play some decent football on occasion despite having nothing to show for it in terms of points.
Hignett felt the reaction to his side losing their opening matches was ‘knee-jerk’ but recognised the importance of picking up three points in Berkshire over the weekend.
And that’s exactly what they did as substitute Niko Muir pounced on a parried Ryan Donaldson strike to net the only goal of the game and secure a 1-0 win.
It was Pools’ first of the season and first away from Victoria Park since the 4-0 thrashing at Boreham Wood in February.
“There’s obviously been a bit of pressure because of the first two games,” Hignett said.
“But I’ve seen enough in the first two games to know I’ve got a decent side who isn’t going to struggle at the wrong end of the table but you’ve got to earn victories in this league and do things properly.
“We’ve had a few things go against us in the opening two games but all in all we’ve played some really good stuff.
“The first goal was always going to be important and I spoke about it the other night saying how crucial it is to get the first goal when you’re on top.
“I thought we should have been ahead at half time but we weren’t so the lads still had to go but I thought they started the second half really well and got the goal they deserved.
“Then I thought they managed the game really well after that. Maidenhead were getting desperate and resorted to long balls, playing four up front at the end.
“They got it in there and asked questions of us but we had all the answers today and were quite comfortable.
“They’re not a bad side, they’ll cause problems with the quality they’ve got and they’ve had a good start. It was important for us to get off the mark and we’ve done that with three points today so everything looks rosy and a lot brighter than it did on Tuesday night after Halifax.”
It was a largely positive afternoon for Hartlepool though they did suffer a minor set-back as Nicke Kabamba picked up an ankle injury which saw him replaced by Muir at the break.
But Hignett is hoping the striker won’t have to be added to an injury list which already includes key attacking players Josh Hawkes (hamstring) and Luke Molyneux (foot).
“Nicke jumped and turned his ankle but I don’t think he’ll be missing too long,” confirmed the 49-year-old.
“At half-time he tried it but didn’t feel like he could go out but that’s why we’ve got the squad that we’ve got so that we can cover things like that.
“Niko has came on and taken his chance and I’m delighted for him but Kitch [Mark Kitching] also came in and took his chance – that’s the quality of the squad that we’ve got.
“We were disappointed not to be ahead at half-time but the message to the lads was just to keep doing what we were doing well and when we’re on top, make sure we lock it down so people can’t break out on us.
“I thought we were really good at that and didn’t really give them a sniff. I thought we closed down really well and didn’t let them get out the first half and couldn’t play through us.
“At the end they tried to go long but the back two, Fraser [Kerr] and Raynesy [Michael Raynes] dealt with that really well.”
Muir’s goal put Hartlepool ahead in a match for the first time this season as they had to hold onto the lead.
Pools’ opening two matches have seen them chasing the game as their opponents succeeded in frustrating them. But with the 1-0 advantage, they were able to nullify Maidenhead who started to throw bodies forward in desperation late on.
And Hignett was pleased to see his side adapt well and remain organised to pick up a clean sheet after going in front.
“We showed a different side of our game to see it out, but I know they will and I know they’ll get more chances,” he continued.
“As people push forward, we’ve got players who can punish them, if fit. I know when Ryan has played a few more games we get more chances.
“You saw what Gime [Toure] did today when we were under the cosh, he’s such a great outlet for us. Niko up there with a bit of pace can hold the ball up.
“I thought we had a little bit of everything in our game today and I’m so pleased for the lads because they’ve worked really hard and I don’t think they’ve deserved what they’ve got the first two games but today I thought they got what they deserved.”