TWELVE months ago and Hartlepool United’s playing plan was clear. Under Matthew Bates it was three at the back.

After Bates left and Richard Money arrived, he couldn’t believe the limitations of the squad: it was, he felt, three at the back or nothing.

Things changed when Money’s short-lived tenure was ended.

Craig Hignett was – and is - all about attack. He quipped he would play two at the back and let the rest plough forward if he could.

Now, it’s turned full circle. Gone is the 4-3-3 he started the season with and prefers, in is three at the back.

It’s a system he’s not overly-enthusiastic about, but it’s working. Since the change in set-up, Pools have not lost in five as they go to Dagenham this afternoon.

Pools lost their first two games this season, and Hignett admitted: “The three at the back, I wanted to play a four, but with results and conceding goals meant we had to do something different. The lads at the back are suited to it, probably better than the front lads and it makes us a more solid unit.

“If is suits the team and the players then why not play that way?

“Coaches have a pre-conceived idea about how they want to play and my way is probably like Liverpool. But you can’t be stubborn and keep going if it’s not right and we went to three centre-halves and we’ve not looked back and not lost since we changed it.’’

Fielding a flat-back four did leave goalkeeper Ben Killip and centre-half Fraser Kerr exposed as they started the season slowly.

Both look more comfortable in the current system, both enjoying increased confidence levels.

On the left side of the formation, and Mark Kitching has impressed. While Peter Kioso on the opposite flank has a goal to his name and is a real crowd favourite, the improvement in Kitching is noticeable.

He has looked more confident and more comfortable this season and has come back strongly from some personal heartache.

Hignett added: “Wing-backs are key to the system. Peter has scored and played well and Mark and Kenton (Richardson) have done well – those two especially had a tough year after they both lost their dads.

“They have come back with a different mentality and look different players.

“Kitch isn’t an old lad, he’s got a lot ahead of him and not played a full season apart from last year. We got Rom in and he started the first two but Kitch has since been terrific and a few people have said that to me. He’s been positive, got in good positions and has been good with ball, while his defending has been good – but he’s not the only one.

“Kitch has been positive going forward and that is a big part of our game. He’s took it on and he looks a better player for it. He understands it himself and he knows what the game is about.’’

Pools drew with Woking last Saturday, and sit ten games into their season.

They look a better and more savvy team than they have in their two-season National League spell and there’s room for improvement too.

“We’ve had a good week with some specific coaching which you don’t normally get the chance to do,’’ said Hignett.

“We are ten games in and it’s shaping up as a division. We feel one or two teams will drop off and for now they are going well, but I’m more concerned about what we do because I know what we are capable of.

“I don’t think a massive amount of points will get in the play-offs, the total will be slightly lower. You have a chance in every game, but you have to be organised and work hard, but we have that bit of extra quality.

“I think we are getting there with a way to go and we will get better. The two Lukes will make us better and we will get stronger.

“There’s a tendency for us to have a mini-slump November time, but I think we will be stronger as we go on.

“You can see the strides we made since Chorley when we started with a back five and we are a different side now.

“We will get better and stronger and have match-winners here who have yet to play.’’