Hughes happy to utilise Pools' experienced players

MARKED MAN: Striker Steve Howard tries to find a way through the Walsall defence

MARKED MAN: Striker Steve Howard tries to find a way through the Walsall defence

First published in Sport The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

HARTLEPOOL United might be taking baby steps under their new manager, but John Hughes has every faith in the efforts of his older generation.

A point at Walsall was Hughes' first reward as Pools' manager following back-to-back defeats in his opening games.

It's hardly a landmark to rake in a draw at a team almost as out of form as Pools - this was Walsall's 15th game without a win, while Pools are now four worse off and one short of equalling an all-time club winless record.

But, following the traumas of losing 5-0 to Coventry then succumbing to a last-gasp penalty against Oldham, it was, at least, a small step in the right direction.

Given their dilemma, it's the elder statesmen of the Pools camp who Hughes is relying on for stability and nous.

Experience counts in this situation and Sam Collins (35, 524 games), Ritchie Humphreys (34, 633), Paul Murray (36, 532) and Steve Howard (36, 751) are keeping their heads and keeping the younger players protected from the traumas of a relegation fight.

"I've got Big Sam, Ritchie, Muzza, Big Stevie all fighting their corners in there and that experience in the team is vital,'' said Hughes.

"But I keep saying the supporters should realise that we have to take some things from the team, use the experience in this situation and we need to roll our sleeves up.

"I'm delighted with the effort and commitment the older players have shown.

"Sometimes your experienced boys take the hits and they have been there in the game for a long time and are wise to it all. They don't want a relegation on their CVs, where sometimes younger boys come in with a worry and a fear about the situation.

"To the guys who have played three games in a week I say thanks for their efforts and commitment. Now we rest them up and get them ready to go again.''

Without a game until December 8 as the FA Cup takes place this weekend, Hughes has two uninterrupted weeks on the training ground to get his players tuned into his ways and means.

The break will also give his Dad's Army a chance to refresh.

"We are talking about 35-year-olds playing on a right heavy pitch and it's their third game in a week,'' he said. "I've the same concerns as supporters when I'm watching it. Can we get a sub on? Do this, do that? We all work hard and it's up to the players to get picked to wear the jersey.

"I'm grateful to the older boys for what they do. There's a spirit there, I believe that.

"And it's all going to come together. We are in this position for a reason, we realise it.

"We all want to see the game played in a beautiful manner, but right now we have to create a siege mentality, roll our sleeves up and get rid of that trepidation.

"We have to say right now we aren't the best football team, but we are hard to beat on this display. I was asked this week about the team not being able to string together back-to-back performances - maybe we've done it at Walsall after a start against Oldham.''

Hughes will introduce a more expansive game to Pools once they get some confidence. At the moment he's looking for characters who are up for a fight and understands the need for experience at a time when they are ten points shy of the safety line.

At the Banks's Stadium, it was his first away game in charge. Pools set out to be solid with two holding midfielders and three packed tight in front of Paul Murray and Ritchie Humphreys.

There was a lack of natural width and, more often than not, left-back Evan Horwood was pressed up the pitch.

It was his chasing of Ashley Hemmings that forced the winger into an errant back pass, intercepted by Howard, who was felled by keeper Aaran McCarey.

Horwood became Pools' fourth penalty taker of the season and converted their second successful spot kick after two other misses in League One.

It was the first time Pools have led since October 13, ten games previously, when they went in front against Doncaster.

They weren't able to hold on and conceded the equaliser four minutes into the second-half.

A corner was cleared, returned into the area, headed by Sam Collins but only as far as Will Grigg. His first-time shot was well stopped by Scott Flinders, but landed at the feet of Dean Holden, who netted.

Pools didn't crumble this time, despite being put under their share of pressure, and saw the game through.

Hughes reflected: "We made some positive changes and I could sit here and pull your chain a bit and say we were a good footballing team, but we have at this moment in time to be resolute and organised.

"We have to be solid and we got a point for the effort and commitment.

"We will become a better football team as the weeks and months go by and I would love to be sitting here talking about total football and all that stuff, but we are miles away from it.''

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