Craig Hignett believes that Hartlepool United are only a handful of signings away – and another goalscorer – from being able to compete at the top end of League Two.
Pools fell to a 2-0 defeat to Portsmouth at Victoria Park on Saturday courtesy of second-half goals form Kal Naismith and Conor Chaplin.
It was Pools’ final home game of a season that has seen them flirt with relegation for the third successive year.
Hignett replaced Ronnie Moore – who was watching on from the stands on Saturday – in February and steered Pools to survival with a month of the season to go.
The Pools boss said that the difference in quality between his team and Portsmouth’s wasn’t vast, but that he is short of a couple of players who can spearhead the team into the upper echelons of the league.
“We are not far away, three or four proper additions and we are more than a match for anyone,” he said.
“We will improve. A bit of quality and bit by bit as time goes on I’m sure in 12 months time we will be in a much stronger position.”
Billy Paynter and Rhys Oates both missed two great chances apiece for Pools, while Luke James was unlucky not to have scored, too.
It is that failure to convert chances into goals on a regular basis that is Hignett’s biggest task to resolve in the upcoming close-season.
“We created lots of chances, but didn’t put any away. Seven of them second half, three certain goals,” he went on.
“That’s the difference in this league, the final ball. They cross and pick men out and finish – we didn’t.
“They had four chances, scored two, we had seven and none put away. That’s disappointing.
“I know what’s missing, we have caused problems and can match any team.
“It’s up to me to find that missing bit. If you score goals and you will be up there in the league.
“It’s alright playing the football and passing the ball, but we need an end produce.”
Hignett is planning on informing the players who he will retain and release before Saturday’s season finale at Plymouth Argyle, Portsmouth’s play-off opponents.
Once he has done that, he will pursue his summer transfer targets with the emphasis being on permanent signings over loan signings.
He added: “The big thing is who comes in.
“The players will be told next week and we’ve been on with targets for weeks.
“We are in dialogue with who we want and what we want and hopefully we can get them.”
Changes to the loan market mean that month-long loans will no longer be permitted.
Teams can only lease players from transfer window to transfer window, or for a whole season.
“The loan market is one to look at differently next season because you can’t have short-term arrangements,” Hignett explained.
“A lot of teams will look at that more so in January, that window will be huge as teams know by then what their second half of the season will be.
“I’d prefer permanent deals, but you have to use the loan system then I will do.”