Calm, clever Matthew Bates is the catalyst for Hartlepool United’s defensive revival, according to boss Craig Hignett.
The Pools boss has been able to call upon the experienced former England youth international in the last three games.
And his side have conceded just two goals in their last three, having shipped nine in the three games prior to the 29-year-old’s return from injury.
This comes as absolutely no surprise to Hignett, who was full of praise for the ex-Middlesbrough man after the 2-0 League Two win over Cheltenham on Saturday.
Hignett said: “Matthew has a real calmness about him.
“He influences others and manages games.
“You could really see our game management on Saturday.
“When we had to defend we did and going forward some of the stuff we played was a joy to watch at times.”
It has been a frustrating few months for the Pools defender, having to sit games out while his side struggled at the back at times.
But it has been even more so for Hignett, who has also had to do without the services of 37-year-old Football League veteran Rob Jones, who narrowly missed out on a place in last weekend’s squad with a knock, for two months.
Hignett continued: “Batesy brings a calmness, him being there helps.
“He knows when to close down, when to drop off, and he gets others to do it.
“When no-one talks you get rash decisions and you saw less of them out there.
“That’s because he is there to help us.
“Rob Jones is the same, but louder. Batesy is calmer in a lot of ways – talking, organising, closing down, pressing, and it’s because he’s been there and done it.
“He is confident in his own ability and others feed off it.”
On the defender’s goal, which put fans’ nerves at rest in the closing stages on Saturday, Hignett says it highlighted Bates’ game intelligence.
And Hignett wants the rest of his young backline to start thinking just like Bates.
“He knew they were man to man marking so he ran across their defensive line knowing his marker couldn’t follow him as he would run into people,” said the manager.
“A great ball in and it’s game over.
“I ask for players to think about the game, not just play it how they want, but to think what they are doing and why.
“Don’t follow the ball around for 90 minutes.
“When we play like that and get the result it makes everything you do worthwhile.”
While Bates showed his class, Pools midfield looked head and shoulders above the opposition, and the frontline looked capable of scoring at will, Hignett says the rest of his players have their substitute goalkeeper to thank for ending their eight game winless run on home soil.
He said “Adam Bartlett’s save was unbelievable.
“A wayward shot that Toto (Nsiala) miscued and you think it’s into the top corner.
“When you’ve a keeper on the bench, then comes on and saves like that it shows how good he is.”