Three things to look out for as Hartlepool United open their pre-season campaign at Billingham Town

Hartlepool United kick-off their pre-season campaign at Billingham Town this evening (7pm kick-off).

By Dominic Scurr
Tuesday, 02 July, 2019, 11:55
Craig Hignett taking Hartlepool United's pre-season training session. Picture by FRANK REID

The Pools players returned to training last week and will be raring to get out on the pitch for the first time in the 2019-20 season.

Northern League Division Two Champions Billingham Town will host Craig Hignett’s side at Bedford Terrace (Billingham, County Durham, TS23 4AE) with tickets available on the gate at £6 for adults, £4 for concessions and free for under-16s.

Here are three things to look out for this evening...

New faces

Pools have made six signings so far this summer with Nicke Kabamba, Michael Raynes, Ben Killip, Luke Molyneux, Gime Toure and most recently Gus Mafuta coming through the doors at the Super 6 Stadium.

Goalkeeper Killip and forward Toure are set to get their first run-out in a Pools shirt this evening. Kabamba, Raynes and Molyneux all spent time on loan at the club last season before agreeing permanent deals in the summer – all three are expected to have some involvement in the match.

The only new addition who is not set to be involved is Mafuta. The 24-year-old midfielder signed for Hartlepool on Friday afternoon and will join up with his new teammates this week before being available for Saturday’s match at Shildon (3pm kick-off).

“We’ve got seven or eight fixtures potentially this pre-season,” Mafuta told the club website.

“I think the game on Tuesday could be a bit early for me because I haven’t trained this week but it’ll be good to see the lads in action and hopefully I’ll play a part in the following game after that.”

The club have also had several players in on trial over the past week. This included former Carlisle United midfielder Jason Kennedy and 18-year-old Bristol City defender Jack Spark.

32-year-old Kennedy has around 400 Football League appearances under his belt and also featured in the Premier League for Middlesbrough as a teenager.

Spark featured for Gloucester City during a brief spell in the National League South last season.

Hignett suggested more trialists would likely come on board this week and a number are set to be given an opportunity this evening.

Fitness

The key message from Hignett this summer is getting his players as fit as possible for the start of the competitive season.

Early reports from training are looking positive with each player running over a marathon in distance within the opening week.

It’s Hartlepool’s first match of pre-season but it’s also Billingham’s, so there will be an expectation for Hignett’s men, who have been rigorous and scientific in their approach, to really demonstrate their initial fitness against their Northern League opponents over 90 minutes.

Billingham Town joint-manager Barry Oliver said ahead of the match: “The Pools game is a very traditional part of the club now. While last year we acquitted ourselves very well on the day, this time round Higgy has made some very good signings in quality.

“We will need our very best to get something from the game.”

Ryan Donaldson and Myles Anderson were two Pools players who sat-out parts of training last week at East Durham College though their injuries weren’t said to be serious.

Donaldson was rested due to a muscle strain while Anderson is still recovering from mouth surgery following on from the injury he picked up against Leyton Orient back in February.

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Neither are expected to feature this evening with midfielder Luke Williams also set to be rested as he continues his recovery from a long-term knee injury which kept him out for the entirety of last season.

“We’ve had a really positive first seven days or so but we’ve only just started really and it’s all about fitness and getting those levels up to where they need to be,” Hignett said.

“Luke Williams won’t play any part at Billingham for the same reason – he’s completed every minute of our competitive training so far but we have to take it slowly with him.

“He needs to be stronger and fitter before we feel that he’s ready for full contact so we will look after him and bring him in to it when it’s right for him.”

Tactics

While pre-season gives players the chance to work on their fitness ahead of the coming season, it also allows managers to adopt a range of tactical approaches to matches without consequence.

In fact, Pools’ squad is such that Hignett could effectively field an entirely different XI in each half while retaining some form of positional consistency.

And this is likely what the Hartlepool manager will do – here are the current options for Pools as it stands should all players be available.

Goalkeepers: Ben Killip, Ryan Catterick, Brad Young

Full-backs: Peter Kioso, Mark Kitching, Kenton Richardson, Ryan Donaldson, Myles Anderson

Centre-backs: Fraser Kerr, Michael Raynes, Myles Anderson, Aaron Cunningham

Central-midfielders: Liam Noble, Gavan Holohan, Nicky Featherstone, Gus Mafuta, Adam Bale

Wingers/attacking-midfielders: Luke Molyneux, Josh Hawkes, Luke James, Luke Williams, Ryan Donaldson, Gime Toure

Forwards: Nicke Kabamba, Gime Toure, Luke James, Niko Muir

It will be interesting to see if Hignett chooses to pair new his new strike force of Nicke Kabamba and Gime Toure together or opts to play one in either half as a lone forward.

Toure’s adeptness out wide will also provide further options in the final third while Pools’ abundance of midfielders is going to have to be carefully managed in order to allow all players to get an appropriate amount of time on the field.

“After the first week of pre-season it can start to drag a little but that’s why it’s great we’re going straight in to our friendlies programme (tonight),” the Hartlepool manager told the club website.

“Once the games start coming I always feel like pre-season passes that little bit quicker so we’re looking forward to getting them underway.

“The majority of the lads will get 45 minutes and then probably the same again Saturday.

“Then we can step it up to an hour as we go along but over the course of the game schedule I imagine most of the players will have accumulated four games or more before the real stuff starts.”

The National League fixtures are set to be announced at around 1pm on Wednesday afternoon with the competitive season set to get underway a month later on August 3.