Release or retain? Liam Kennedy's verdict on the major Hartlepool United contract decisions facing Craig Hignett

Some massive decisions lie in wait for Hartlepool United boss Craig Hignett.

Monday, 29th April 2019, 5:43 pm
Updated Monday, 29th April 2019, 5:55 pm
Liam Kennedy's verdict on the big contract decisions at Hartlepool United

He's already started the process of discussing new deals with players - with Josh Hawkes at the top of Pools' list - and telling others their futures lie away from the Super 6 Stadium.

The manager has been keeping his cards close to his chest in recent weeks with regards his players' futures, so it is difficult to tell who he fancies and who he's keen to chop. Of course, it may not get it all his own way - the players themselves could opt to ply their trade elsewhere, even if Hignett and his coaches are keen to hang on to them.

Our Pools writer Liam Kennedy has followed the club up and down (mostly down) the country as they laboured to a lower mid-table National League finish last season.

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Here's his take on who he'd build a squad around, and who he'd bin in order to improve.

Goalkeepers - Scott Loach, Ryan Catterick

One hundred games on the bounce is no mean feat for any player, especially one who prior to his arrival had been a bit-part player at a number of football clubs.

But it's fair to say Scott Loach has more than proven himself as a top National League goalkeeper since being snapped up by then manager Craig Harrison.

He made his 100th consecutive appearance at the weekend, and picked up the players' player of the year award for the second year in a row. He couldn't retain the fans' award this time though, with Luke James taking the honour this time around.

In an ideal world both of these would be keepers (literally).

You always need a number two, just in case, so Catterick should remain and there aren't many better than Loach at this level. Finance will ultimately determine whether Loach is a Pools player beyond the summer.

Central defenders - Fraser Kerr, David Edgar, Myles Anderson, Carl Magnay, Aaron Cunningham, Michael Raynes

Let's get the easier calls out of the way early.

I'd be very surprised if David Edgar is a Pools player next season. I could be wrong but I just don't see it. And given his mixed bag of performances, a selection of 9s and 5s, I wouldn't keep him either, not if rumours of the size of his wage packet are true.

Michael Raynes is unlikely to return, even if he gets back fully fit and Carl Magnay, for me, has had his day at Pools.

Aaron Cunningham is a player who looks certain to get a new deal and it's richly deserved - he just needs to get fit, and stay fit, and he could have a great career in the game.

Myles Anderson has, for me, proven himself a very valuable member of the backline and Fraser Kerr has a year left - he's the best defender of the bunch by some distance.

So it's a keep for Cunningham, Kerr and Anderson, with the rest sent on their way.

Full-backs - Peter Kioso, Mark Kitching, Danny Amos, Kenton Richardson

Peter Kioso is a contender for a player of the season.

A free transfer last summer, he's played a lot for Pools this season, putting in some strong, athletic performances all across the back five.

He's raw but he's one who Pools will want to keep for at least another year.

Kenton Richardson is another player who could, with the right coaching, have a future in the game. His fitness is his main asset.

Danny Amos has done little to convince he'd be worth another shot with his loan deal ending. Well, not as a defender anyway.

His delivery and work going forward is top class, his defensive work less so.

And then there's Mark Kitching. I like him. I'm never 100% convinced when he plays left of a five or in a four but I think there's definitely a place for him in the squad.

Central midfielders - Liam Noble, Lewis Hawkins, Nicky Featherstone, Conor Newton, Gavan Holohan, Lewis Hawkins, Paddy McLaughlin, Adam Bale

Let's start with the departures.

Paddy McLaughlin is unlikely to stay. As steady as he is, I'd probably look elsewhere for players with something a little different. A solid professional, but I'd be looking for a bit more from my midfield next season.

Lewis Hawkins will leave, and I can't have any complaints with that, the same can be said of Conor Newton, who has been one of the biggest disappointments of the last two years at Pools.

A player with ability and goals in his game - he's never been close to showing his best, and he's one of the bigger earners in the squad.

Adam Bale has a year left and is worth a look as a defensive midfielder while I think Gavan Holohan has proven he's a keeper. His well timed runs from deep and his eye for a goal (or the bar) have been a real plus point of the last couple of weeks of the season.

If you're building a squad Liam Noble has to be a part of it. He's got the right character on and off the field and he's got that bit bite which is lacking, and has been for some time.

And then there's Nicky Featherstone. Love him as a player, but only sometimes. Most of the time, for me, he does not do enough in games. When he is on it, Pools look top drawer. When he's not, the game passes him by. It could be time for a change.

Attacking midfielders/ wide players - Ryan Donaldson, Josh Hawkes, Luke Molyneux, Luke James

Luke James has another year and you'd want to sign him for another 10. He's a class act.

Hignett has claimed that if James scored goals he'd be a Premier League player. Now I wouldn't go that far, but he'd certainly be playing a bit higher than the fifth tier.

In an ideal world you'd want to keep Luke Molyneux. So he's a yes, but I'd be shocked if he's in the blue and white of Pools next season. Bigger fish will snap him when he's released, as expected, by Sunderland.

That brings us on to Josh Hawkes, who is another who'd you'd be loathe to let leave. He has another year, but this could be the summer Pools cash in.

And finally the man who finished the season as skipper - Ryan Donaldson.

Speaking to him on a number of occasions he's been quite guarded on his future. He's said he wants to stay, but has given no hints that's what the club want.

It could come down to finance, but if it were up to me his deal would already be on the table. A quality performer in a number of positions, from front to back.

Strikers - Nicke Kabamba, Niko Muir, Jake Cassidy

Jake Cassidy's time at Pools is done, and I don't think many will miss him.

Niko Muir is a player who has shown considerable ability but fell off a cliff midway through the season.

When I asked whether he would come in for the last couple of games I was told "every player has to earn their chances" - read into that what you will. I like him and I'd keep him no doubt, as well as Nicke Kabamba.

He's been a positive addition. And if Pools can add one more I think they have a decent frontline ahead of next season.