Port Vale v Hartlepool United: Key defender touch and go for Pools’ second round tie

Pools' Liam Donnelly takes down a high ball in last month's win over Cheltenham. Picture by Frank Reid

Pools' Liam Donnelly takes down a high ball in last month's win over Cheltenham. Picture by Frank Reid

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Hartlepool United defender Liam Donnelly is rated as touch and go for Sunday’s FA Cup visit to Port Vale.

The Northern Ireland Under-21 skipper has missed Pools’ last two games due to a knee cartilage issue.

And despite doing some light work on the club’s Maiden Castle training pitches, Pools medical staff are taking it easy with the 20-year-old, who has been a key player this campaign for manager Craig Hignett.

The gaffer revealed: “Liam Donnelly is touch and go. He is doubtful.

“Apart from that, it is just Mags (Carl Magnay) and Nathan Thomas who are out.

“We will wait and see whether Liam comes with us.”

One of the other big question marks ahead of the FA Cup second round clash is whether Hignett will stick with three at the back, or go back to four.

The manager says he has settled on what system and personnel he will call upon, but was keeping his cards close to his chest.

He said: “I have a good idea of the team I will play.

“But you can’t always go with what you want because some players may not be available.

“The back three has worked, but it needs work. The players believe in it.”

Poor defending has cost Pools dear this campaign so far and Hignett is hoping the penny will drop with his players, especially against opposition from the division above.

“We have to start learning from our mistakes,” he said.

“At some point, the penny has to drop.

“There was nothing in the game last week, then there were two bits of slack defending.

“We have gone through the video, shown them exactly where we have gone wrong.

“We are doing it too often. As a team, we didn’t look our usual sharp selves. We looked laboured, and we were poor with the ball.

“We have had a meeting and we will move on from that.

“I can’t question out attitude and application but the concentration wasn’t right.”