CRAIG HIGNETT has admitted Hartlepool United’s escalating problems represent a “tough test” – and has admitted he did not feel he could stand in the way of Curtis Fleming’s move to QPR.

Fleming left his position as Pools’ assistant manager yesterday to take over as Ian Holloway’s number two at Loftus Road, and Hignett has spoken with chairman Gary Coxall to begin the process of recruiting his successor.

The upheaval comes in the wake of last weekend’s 5-0 home thrashing at the hands of Cambridge United, and follows a difficult month that saw Pools avoid a winding-up order for an unpaid tax debt after a petition was filed at London’s High Court.

Hignett has already revealed he has been told he will have to “wheel and deal” if he wants to bring in any signings next month, and it is understood that he will not be allowed to increase the current wage bill despite Pools’ precarious position just four points above the League Two relegation zone.

“My eyes are open - I know exactly what is going on,” said Hignett, who will take his side to fourth-placed Portsmouth tomorrow. “From my point of view it is all about experience, and I know that later on in life, this will stand me in good stead.

“It’s tough at the minute, and I’m trying to work my way around it and come out the other end better for it.”

Sam Collins will stand in as Fleming’s temporary successor this afternoon, with Hignett having lost a long-term confidante who played a pivotal role in Pools’ backroom set-up.

In an ideal world, Hignett would not have wanted to lose the former Middlesbrough defender, but even he was forced to acknowledge that a move to the Championship was too good an opportunity to turn down.

“It is one where we would never stand in his way,” said Hignett. “Curtis knows me as a lad, he knows what I want, he knows what football I want to play.

“I can talk to Curtis. He is one who I can confide in. I trust him. He is a top lad and a good friend. He is a big loss around the place.

“It’s sad to see Curtis go, but it’s a great opportunity for him to work in the Championship. He’s given everything to this club while he’s been here, and he leaves with our blessing and best wishes for the future.

“We are talking about (a replacement) this week. We have spoken with the chief executive and chairman, and we have bandied a few names about. We will go through them and see what we can do.”

On the field, last weekend’s second-half capitulation marked a new seasonal low, with Pools conceding five goals in the space of 37 minutes.

They have lost six of their last eight league matches, and shipped nine goals in their last two outings, but Hignett insists they are not nervously casting an eye over the relegation zone.

“We aren’t looking over our shoulders,” he said. “We have had two heavy defeats in the last week and I am hurt by that, so are the players.

“You learn a lot about characters at this time, when times are tough. But it is still early on in the season, there is still a long way to go.

“Starting on Saturday, we want a real positive performance. None of what we do or say matters unless we have a performance at 3pm on Saturday. I need people who will turn up this weekend.

“I want the players to show they have pride in what they do. I want players to show they have pride for the football club. I have got pride. I am as passionate as the most passionate fan out there. I want this club to win every game.

“There is no reason why we can’t turn it around, but it will take some strong characters around the dressing room.”

Pools will be without Jake Orrell this weekend, as the former Sunderland academy product has picked up a knock.