Craig Hignett is “quietly excited” by Hartlepool United as the clock ticks down ever closer to the season.
But the Pools boss admits his side face a serious test of their credentials when Scunthorpe United come to Victoria Park tomorrow (kick-off 3pm).
Pre-season, thus far, has been smooth for Pools, if largely low-key with wins against Billingham Town (4-0) and Guisborough (6-0) interspersed with games against league opposition, Sunderland (0-3) and Livingston (0-0).
A visit of League One opposition should give Hignett a clearer assessment of his players.
“I think so,” he said. “Scunthorpe have a good squad.
“They have spent a lot of money, they have some players on big wages
“Scunthorpe are expected to do well in League One, so this will be a really good test for us.
“But I’m really looking forward to it, because I’m quietly excited by what I’ve seen.”
While optimism is running at a high level, as it should in pre-season, Hignett has some serious thinking to do ahead of kick-off tomorrow.
The Pools boss, allied with first-team coach Curtis Fleming, must whittle down 20-odd players into a match-day XI.
Hignett has sent out big squads in every game so far in pre-season, but tomorrow he is likely to restrict himself to ‘just’ the 18.
And while he will not yet know his team to play Colchester next Saturday, he will want to send out a side against the Iron fairly close to it.
Tomorrow will therefore present a final opportunity, in a match environment anyway, for players to stake a claim for a spot against the U’s.
“This is where the season really takes shape for me,” said Hignett, who fielded teams at both Guisborough Town and Seaham Red Star on Tuesday night.
“People are fighting for their places because we have some really good footballers here.”
The side which beat Town, you would have to say, was the stronger of the two, but Hignett has some tough choices, especially in the opposition half of the field.
“It’s not just up front, it’s midfield. We had a really good midfield at Seaham as well,” he said.
“I want competition for places and I want players to embrace it and I’ll get to know the ones who thrive from it and those who crumble.”
Competition is intense.
The advanced trio which took the field at the King George V Ground – Lewis Alessandra, Padraig Amond and Billy Paynter – looked a tasty combination, but where does that leave Nathan Thomas?
And midfield is an even trickier conundrum for Hignett and Fleming.
Last season’s triumvirate of Nicky Featherstone, Lewis Hawkins and Michael Woods were excellent at Guisborough, but then there is new signing Nicky Deverdics and Josh Laurent to throw in the frame.
Thomas and Deverdics provide some left-foot expertise – without them the side is very right-footed.
Toto Nsiala is fit to play tomorrow after recovering from an ankle knock which forced him off in the first half at Guisborough.