Nicky Featherstone discusses his role in the Hartlepool United side as manager Dave Challinor gives his thoughts on 'key figure'
Nicky Featherstone has been a mainstay in the Hartlepool United side since Dave Challinor took charge and is looking to continue making an impact at Victoria Park.
The 31-year-old midfielder has started all 18 games for Pools since Challinor took charge, scoring twice in the 2-2 draws against Boreham Wood and Exeter City respectively.
Challinor has altered his midfield slightly since arriving at the club with the likes of Gavan Holohan and Salford City loanee Mark Shelton emerging as key players in the middle of the park alongside Featherstone.
Challinor has opted for that midfield trio for Pools’ last two matches with contrasting results. The side dominated in the middle against Stockport County at Victoria Park with goals from Aidan Keena and Shelton seeing them claim a 2-0 win.
But last weekend at Barnet, Holohan’s red card early in the second half made things difficult as Hartlepool suffered their first defeat in five National League matches.
But Featherstone, who has had several midfield partners throughout the season, is content with the way the side are set-up going into the final 13 games.
“It’s good, [me, Gav and Mark] played together for the Barrow game in midfield previously and again last week which worked well,” he said.
“I’m happy to play with whomever the manager picks because we’ve got a good balance with Gus [Mafuta] able to come in too.
“There’s lots of competition in the midfield and it can only benefit the team going forward.”
United currently sit six points off the final play-off place going into the final three months of the 2019-20 campaign.
With the season risking petering out prematurely, Featherstone feels the next month could be crucial.
After hosting Aldershot Town at Victoria Park this weekend, Pools face three play-off contenders in Solihull Moors, Notts County and Boreham Wood in February.
“We’ve got to get back on the bike after Saturday, take the positives and address the negatives,” Featherstone added.
“We know we’re a match for anyone because we’ve proved it with our performances and results over the last two, three weeks.
“But we go again back at home against Aldershot and our home form has really picked up recently. We need to win the home games and pick up points away from home and we’ll have a shout I think.
“The fixture schedule over the next month works in our favour because we’ve played a game or even two games more than some of the teams around us so if we can take points off them then it’s going to really benefit us in terms of the league table.
“I think I’d rather be playing those teams because we can have a massive effect as to who makes the play-offs now.”
Featherstone is one of several players in the squad believed to be out of contract in the summer.
He is approaching 250 competitive appearances for Pools with Walsall loanee Gary Liddle the only member of the current squad to have appeared more times for the club.
Challinor’s arrival has seen a notable upturn in form for Featherstone as the Pools boss currently assesses his squad regarding potential new deals.
Any potential new deal offered to the midfielder is bound to split opinion with Poolies. For some he’s a key player and creative influence in the side,while for others he’s been a mainstay during a low point in the club’s history.
While Challinor hasn’t given anything away regarding who new deals will be offered to just yet, he has frequently praised Featherstone since taking charge.
When explaining why the midfielder is one of the first names on the teamsheet, Challinor explained: “What we’ve done with Feaths is we’ve put him in a slightly deeper role to allow him to get on the ball more.
“He’s a very good footballer and he’ll take the ball with players around him and under pressure which is what we need, we need to take risks and look to make things happen.
“If he makes a mistake, he’ll still take it and that’s what you need to do.”
In addition to playing Featherstone in a deeper midfield role, Challinor has also tweaked his responsibilities in the side to allow the likes of Shelton and Holohan to push forward.
“I’ve put more demands on him physically,” added the Hartlepool manager.
“There have been games where, while he played well with the ball, it was the other side of his game that has really impressed me in terms of being physical and winning the midfield battle.
“We lost the midfield battle against Harrogate on Boxing Day so we changed it up and first played Feaths with Gav and Shelts against Barrow and it impacted the game in and out of possession which we’ve looked to continue since.”
On Featherstone’s form under his management, Challinor continued: “His improvement is down to him and while we may have facilitated that slightly, I don’t take any credit at all for him becoming such a key figure for us.
“I want us to have players who are comfortable in possession of the ball and he’s certainly that.
“The surprising bit for me is how well he’s been able to do the other bits because maybe there was an impression before hand that he couldn’t do that and be the deeper one who breaks play up but he’s more than capable and has been brilliant.”