Now Pools boss Hignett faces a big decision at centre-back

Pools boss Craig Hignett
Pools boss Craig Hignett
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Craig Hignett has already spoken of his selection dilemmas in the midfield and attacking areas.

Now the Hartlepool United boss has a certain degree of difficulty when he comes to choose his central defensive unit for Saturday’s League Two trip to Exeter City.

During pre-season, it looked inevitable that new signing Toto Nsiala would be paired with Matthew Bates, who enjoyed a successful partnership with loan man Adam Jackson last season.

And it seemed Hignett had the perfect stand-in in the shape of veteran defender Rob Jones should either man be missing.

That happened two Saturdays ago when Bates was ill, Jones stepping in against Scunthorpe for the final pre-season friendly and having a good game alongside Nsiala.

The Jones-Nsiala combo was retained at the weekend against Colchester and, Toto’s early backpass mistake aside, performed strongly against a good U’s side.

And when Hignett rested Jones on Tuesday night in the EFL Cup at Preston North End, Bates was restored to the starting XI.

The 29-year-old was not only excellent in dealing with the threat from the Championship outfit, he captained the team in place of the ill Billy Paynter.

“Batesy was different class,” Hignett said.

“He worked really hard in pre-season and, unfortunately for him, he missed the last warm-up game against Scunthorpe and Rob came in and did really well.

“I couldn’t really leave Rob out after that and he played well against Scunthorpe.

“Obviously, Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday is a big ask for Rob.

“But Batesy needed a game and he came in and look as assured as ever.

“Toto was brilliant alongside him, we knew he could do that and if he does that on a regular basis we’ll be all right.”

Nsiala was a man of the match candidate at Deepdale.

Commanding in the air and strong on the deck, there was no uncertainty, the ball was moved when it needed moving.

“Toto was nervous on Saturday, but I thought he grew into the game and played well,” said Hignett.

“On Tuesday, he was excellent, no mistakes, nice and safe with the ball.

“He was strong, aggressive and quick, everything we bought him for.

“Batesy coming in helped him as well.”

You would expect Hignett to play Nsiala and Jones, though it’s not guaranteed, but the manager has a bigger problem in midfield.

He rested Nicky Featherstone and Lewis Hawkins and played the trio of Michael Woods, Josh Laurent and Nicky Deverdics, who all stood out.

“I changed the whole midfield and they were excellent,” he said.

“It’s given me a nice selection problem ahead of the weekend.”