Hartlepool United's squad assessed - strengths, weaknesses and transfers under the spotlight

Three new signings and a whole host of contract extensions - Hartlepool United's National League squad is taking shape ahead of the next season.

By Liam Kennedy
Tuesday, 11 June, 2019, 13:38
Ryan Donaldson of Hartlepool United in action with Josh Granite of Barrow during the Vanarama National League match between Barrow and Hartlepool United.

As it stands, Pools have 19 first-team professionals in their squad, not a bad start for a side who struggled for numbers last season.

But where do they go next? Here our writer Liam Kennedy takes a look at what Craig Hignett already has at his disposal, and what positions he may look to strengthen.

Goalkeeper - two players

The loss of Scott Loach was always going to divide opinion among Poolies, but the club did their best to soften that blow with the signing of one of the brightest young keeper at this level.

Ben Killip was added to cover for Loach's departure, and while he may not have the international pedigree of the former Watford and Ipswich Town keeper, Killip is England C's No1.

In reserve Ryan Catterick has been kept on for another year.

Pools are almost certain to try and send him out on loan, with an instant recall clause. To progress the lad needs games, and given that Hignett likes to fill his bench with five outfield players, very common at this level, he's unlikely to get it at Pools.

Strength or weakness?

It is difficult to say whether this area can be classed as one of strength or weakness, as we are about to step into the unknown.

But if Killip's performances last season are anything to go by then Pools have pulled off a masterstroke in adding the former Chelsea and Norwich City youngster.

Add or not?

Nope, Pools are good to go.

Defenders - seven players

The addition of Michael Raynes was seen as a really positive one behind the scenes at Pools

At top professional, with the ability to play higher, former Carlisle man Raynes adds yet more height and quality to the backline. He should be an upgrade on David Edgar, who was just too inconsistent.

Myles Anderson remains, Peter Kioso will improve, so too Aaron Cunningham and Kenton Richardson.

Mark Kitching is a solid performer, too.

There remains a question mark over the future of Carl Magnay, who was club captain at Pools last season.

Strength or weakness?

Strength. Pools have a number of solid National League performers in the centre. They are absolutely stacked with Raynes and Kerr set to start and Anderson and Cunningham in reserve, that's without even considering Kioso.

Add or not?

But Pools do need to add. What they have aplenty is central players, what they lack is natural, experienced full-backs.

Kitching can play on the left and Kioso on the right but you'd at least want one more to cover in those departments.

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Midfield - seven players

Ryan Donaldson, Gavan Holohan, Liam Noble and Nicky Featherstone all put pen to paper on new deals in the centre of the park, along with Luke Williams so in a lot of ways it's as you were for Pools.

Adam Bale is a bit of an unknown quantity, having seen little football at the end of last season, while Josh Hawkes is Pools' ace in the pack, provided a Football League club doesn't come in for a player who is probably Hartlepool's most saleable asset.

Strength or weakness?

Mixed. Pools have significant strength in this department, but there are a lot of caveats to that evaluation.

Bale can be the ball-winner Pools so desperately need, but he's very inexperienced and cannot be expected to walk into the role immediately.

Williams will be one of the best players in the National League, but only if he can get, and stay, fit.

And if Featherstone can be kept comfortable and confident he's a real asset - but one of his major weaknesses in his five years at Pools has been his massive dips in form from one week to the next.

Getting Noble fitter and firing for the full season has to be top of the list of priorities, too.

Holohan and Donaldson are the stand outs in this department, with Hawkes.

The former two go box-to-box, while the other can unlock doors further up the park.

Add or not?

I'd be tempted to go with what Pools mostly, with an addition in the wide areas. Luke Molyneux needs replacing. Fingers crossed it's a deal Pools can attempt to make permanent.

Forwards - three players

Nicke Kabamba made his loan deal from Havant & Waterlooville, where he was on part-time terms, permanent this summer and it was a big step in the right direction for Pools' summer.

Niko Muir is a player with good ability and a top character but needs to get up to speed with the level, and stay there, in his second season in the full-time game.

Then there is Luke James - quite possibly Pools' biggest asset but not a striker who has looked like scoring a whole lot of goals.

Strength or weakness?

Weakness. Pools have signed a striker but need another.

Kabamba is quality but, at this stage, he is a guaranteed starter - and that is not healthy in any squad, at any level.

Add or not?

Adding in this department is a must between now and the start of the season.

Pools have added Kabamba, a solid signing for the level, but they need competition, and size, up top.

Muir drops off and is not a replacement should Kabamba get injured.