MARTIN GRAY, the long-time former Darlington manager, is in the frame to replace Craig Hignett as Hartlepool United boss.

Hignett was sacked during a telephone conversation with chief executive Mark Maguire yesterday morning, hours after Pools were beaten at Stockport County. Coach Ged McNamee has also departed, while goalkeeping coach Ross Turnbull remains.

Chairman Raj Singh is now looking for his fourth manager since taking charge of the club in March last year.

The Northern Echo: Craig HignettCraig Hignett

And Gray, seeking a return to football management after leaving Shildon where he was working as sporting director following a disappointing time in charge of York City, is high in Singh’s thoughts.

Gray was considered for the position when Matthew Bates was appointed manager at Pools in May last year, but he wasn’t keen on working under a director of football – the role Hignett occupied when Singh took ownership of the club. Gray, then Quakers’ boss, had encouraged investment from the former owner in May 2017.

Current York City boss Steve Watson is among the contenders. He has led the Minstermen to the top of National League North and knows Pools’ division well from his time as Gateshead boss.

Chris Turner, the ex-Pools boss, has expressed an interest, while Ronnie Moore would be keen on a return to Victoria Park. He has experience of the National League from a spell in charge of Eastleigh.

Antony Sweeney, the club’s former midfielder and a first-team coach under Hignett, will take charge of the team for tomorrow’s game at Aldershot with Turnbull. The players were off yesterday and will travel this morning to the game.

Chairman Singh said in a club statement: “This has been, undoubtedly, one of the toughest decisions of my professional life.

“My relationship with Craig is well known and we were desperate for that to turn into success for the club we both care so much about.

“In business, you have to take a step back and decide if you have complete faith in where you are heading and if you are not then you have to be decisive.

“I owe it to myself, and to the fans who have shown such great support, to make decisions as I see them in the best interests of the club. The harsh reality is that we have not made the points progress we had hoped for on the back of the efforts that have been made.

“Craig and Ged have both been loyal, hard-working and given everything to try and deliver success, and we firmly believe they leave us with a stronger base as we seek to challenge in what is a very open National League this season. I want to thank them for all their efforts.”

Hignett, appointed in January, leaves with 11 wins from 31 games, while he suffered 10 defeats and drew 10 games. Wednesday was the first game of a two-game FA touchline ban after being found guilty of using foul and abusive language in the home defeat to Dover last month.

He played twice for Pools in 2007, was assistant manager under Colin Cooper from May 2013 to March 2014 when he left to join Middlesbrough as first-team coach.

He returned to Pools as boss in February 2016, and was sacked in January 2017. When Singh took control of the club to save it from administration, Hignett was instrumental in securing the former Darlington owner.

Hignett was installed as director of football as the club was stabilised, appointed caretaker boss when Bates left last November, then made manager in January after Richard Money’s short-lived stint.