FOR Craig Hignett, next season starts now. Hartlepool United finish a second unflattering campaign in the National League with a home game against Salford City.

The visitors can be promoted, but the play-offs look their likeliest route of success with Leyton Orient three points and five goals better off.

Pools impressed last time out at the Super 6 Stadium in beating Halifax, but were desperately poor on Easter Monday at Barrow.

For some, today will be their last outing in a Pools shirt, with plenty of contracts up for renewal.

Hignett needs to make summer changes to make Pools more competitive, and the wages he has to play with must be spent better than they have been over the last two seasons. It is, as he reiterated plenty of times during Thursday’s press conference, all about recruitment.

He admitted: “I’ve got to approach this game properly and make sure we are ready. We’ve got to know what to expect and be professional that way but then it’ll be nice to get the season out the way and try and get sorted with bringing people to the club.

“I’ve been into it for the last couple of weeks probably we’ve identified people from a few months back, we’ve tried to do it before and it hasn’t happened so we’ve had to wait until the season is finished.

“It’ll finish on Saturday and we can reopen talks with people, we can touch base with other people and we can try and get a clearer picture of where we are going to be come pre-season.”

In the most competitive of divisions, Pools need to be clever in the market. Two summers ago, Craig Harrison brought a welter of players in to try and get back into the Football League quickly. Few have made any impact.

Hignett added: “It’s frightening, there's teams in this league spending what teams in League One would spend, so to compete is difficult and the way we can compete is to make sure what we spend isn’t wasted and it’s going towards making us better.

“We’re not going to be able to compete with 7, 8, 9, 10 teams maybe but we can be clever about how we do it . If it’s only a couple of players here, two, three, four in and then next time we build again, another two, three - eventually we are going to be better because the players we bring in will be better than the players that’ll leave the club.”

Pools, with Hignett, their third manager of the season, have treaded water this campaign. Stable off the pitch, they have been up and down off it.

Today’s opponents are 29 points better off than Pools, who sit 17 shy of the play-off zone. It’s some ground to make up for next season.

The manager added: “Salford will want to finish it properly for sure and seeing them lately… I've watched quite a few of their games, they’ll be a real tough test for us.

“We got a sense playing against Solihull a few weeks back what we are going to expect on Saturday. Salford are similar in that way, in that they are big strong powerful going forward, they’ll battle, scrap, fight, run and if you are not ready for it, not prepared for it, you’ll get turned over and you’ll get turned over comfortably.

“The lads will all know what to expect because we will have worked on it this week and they have to be up for it and the biggest thing for me is they have to put 100 per cent in and come off the pitch absolutely shattered.

“If they don’t, then they haven’t done their jobs properly and I won't be happy with that because the minimum I expect from them is they put 100% graft in every game.”