PLAY like they did against Salford and Halifax and there’s no need for a summer clear out at Hartlepool United.

Perform like they did at Barrow and it’s a case of rip it up and start again.

But Craig Hignett isn’t influenced by the last few games of the season. He knows what he wants and what is needed to turn Pools from a mid-table side to promotion contenders. The groundwork for next season has long started and will take shape whatever the merits of this display.

Pools played some sumptuous football to see off Salford City, who finished third in the table and now start their play-off campaign.

After a flat start when they trailed, Pools recovered and dominated. They didn’t allow themselves to be physically intimidated, gave as good as they got and moved the ball around with style.

They looked a good team. But the season’s results and standings say different.

A promising start under Matthew Bates – two defeats in 16 remember – was followed by a month of chaos under Richard Money – remember him?

Then Hignett bought back the spark and life to the club and crowd. The first part has been achieved in lifting the misery, the second has to

Inconsistency remains, however. The best teams in this division – and others – are capable of performing week in, week out. Pools, for all their positivity on Saturday, aren’t.

Key players who have been up and down all season were up for this occasion.

It helped playing against ten men, a team who knew their hopes of promotion were slim – needing an Orient defeat and a five-goal swing in their favour.

But Salford’s approach and a referee who never seems to be the most authoritative helped Pools cause.

Centre-half Carl Piergianni, many felt, could have been sent off for a car crash of a tackle on Luke James. That the centre-half stayed on the ground and never took off was the reason he stayed on the pitch.

Matthew Green felled Myles Anderson with a clumsy aerial challenge and then needlessly caught Scott Loach when the keeper came out of his box to cut out a long pass.

Green’s dismissal saw the visitors change to 4-3-2 from 3-4-1-2 and it killed their game.

“I thought the result was taken away from us, the competitive level was taken away from us,” claimed visiting manager Graham Alexander, before falling into the realms of a manager seeing a different game. “Five yellows and a red in a game where there was hardly any physical clashes of any note.’’

Pools made the most of the spaces offered, taking up the right positions all over the pitch.

The full-backs – Ryan Donaldson moved to the right after centre-half David Edgar was injured – played more like the front man in an attacking three such was the space he had.

Ahead of him Luke Molyneux roamed left, right and centre for the ball, which was often fed by the instrumental Liam Noble.

At 3-1 down, Salford weren’t interested. It was a training game for Pools, as they sent the home fans home for the summer happy and content.

It may have been a long shot for promotion and the title, but Salford could only muster 300 fans for the game. They might have the biggest budget and the biggest names as owners, but they are very small in other key areas.

Again the Super 6 Stadium was a positive, raucous place. Imagine what it could be like if Pools were challenging at the top?

Pools have lost eight league games at home and Hignett admitted: “Home form has been poor for a long time. It’s a collective effort, players, staff fans and the atmosphere here now is brilliant.

“But we have to win games to give people hope and promise and we hope for a summer to be optimistic, but we know it’s a big job.

“We needed to be at it today, properly at it, and we were apart from the first ten minutes.

“It’s nice to finish the season, go home and have a decent weekend.

“It’s not been a success, 17th doesn’t look great but the league is tight. In and around halfway was alright this season, but not for next. The chairman is going to dig in and give me ten million quid to win the league…..

“That’s how I want to play, pass the ball but I understand you need more in this league and we need to be big, physical and powerful and mix it with footballers.’’

Pools fell behind early. David Edgar was caught napping and Adam Rooney converted well. Then Scott Loach had to save smartly to keep out a second from a Lois Maynard header.

It’s 100 games for Loach and it remains to be seen if he will be at the club next season. Awarded the players’ player of the year award, Loach has generally been a solid performer.

When the Ammies were down to ten men, Pools were clever enough to exploit the advantage.

Full backs pressed up high, midfielders kept the ball and moved it smartly, strikers interchanged and roamed.

Nicky Featherstone levelled, motoring from midfield into the area and latching onto Nicke Kabamaba’s nod down to convert.

Next up and Kabamba turned in from all of two yards after Noble and Molyneux cut the visitors apart.

Hignett has had some honest discussions with Kabamaba in the last week or so. He hopes he will stay, but moving permanently to the North-East from the south coast is a different proposition to a loan move.

Then Luke James, supporters’ player of the year, pushed home after Molyneux showed his ability to find space in the area and picked him out.

Like Kabamba, Molyneux is a player Pools want to keep now his loan is up. If they don’t manage to sign him, then a fit Luke Williams could fill his role.

For Hignett, the hard work starts now.