David Cameron Walker

Archive for the ‘Hartlepool United’ Category

Teamwork the key for Pools

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

CC

This year, the season tickets at Hartlepool have been inscribed with the vaguely inspirational message ‘Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much’. It makes clear that the aim is to be intelligent, to pull together and, through scouting, youth development and work on the training ground, be more than the sum of the individual parts. But the message does have the unfortunate implication that the club believe the playing staff don’t have that much individual flair.

Unfortunately, I’d say that is somewhat the case. The big problem for Hartlepool last season was a lack of cutting edge, creativity and incision. There were other problems, but that was the big one.

Most of the time the effort and application was there, and under John Hughes, organisation and structure was there as well, with Pools lined up in a pragmatic and solid 4-3-3. But there was little to be excited about, with several of the positive results ground out.

The addition of Jack Compton looks to be a step in the right direction, as does Nialle Rodney, who scored several times while on trial. There are others with the potential to offer more than last year – Luke James missed large sections of the season through injury, Andy Monkhouse displayed creativity and goals towards the end of the season that seemed to be locked in the winger’s past, and Jonathan Franks did pretty well considering that his first year dealing with the pressures of first team football coincided with a relegation battle.

During sections of last season, supporting Hartlepool was an embarrassment – there were four 5-0 or 6-1 defeats in the first twenty-one games. At other times the problem was extreme boredom – when Colchester and Portsmouth decided to sit deep and play for a point in relegation six-pointers at Victoria Park, each time the teams could literally have played until midnight and I’d have no real faith in Hartlepool being able to break them down.

If there are reasons to get excited at the Vic next season, it’s probably going to come from the youth. Jack Baldwin, a ball-playing centre half far tougher and more combative than you’d expect a player of his frame to be, should make a push for a permanent first team slot, while the raw but pacey and creative Luke James seemed, at the end of last season, to be maturing into a more consistent player.

Jordan Richards stepped up to the first team at right back for eleven games last season, replacing the consistent Neil Austin without there being a noticeable step down in quality; the lanky but technical Greg Rutherford looked impressive in spells, and 17 year old defensive midfielder Brad Walker has won rave reviews in pre-season, being compared in style to Yaya Toure by assistant manager Craig Hignett.

Aside from the teenagers, James Poole has displayed his flair in patches in recent years, while Franks should be able to build on a decent first year without the stress of a relegation battle.

Many neutrals will look at the form during February (five wins in a seven game unbeaten run) and think the foundations are there – that with a few additions, this would be a team capable of going back up. But the lack of flair – both in terms of dribblers and incisive passers – makes that run twice as remarkable as it first appears.

It was pretty rare last year to see a really clever through ball, or even a player dribble past his man. Unfortunately, I’m sceptical that enough’s been done to fix these problem, so I don’t think a title challenge is remotely plausible. But I’m hopeful of watching the development of a talented and hard-working squad, and, if they gel well, maybe even a play-off push.

The departure of John Hughes will have surprised many, considering that he took over a team more or less down by October, steadied the ship and, for five glorious weeks at the turn of the year, seemed to be leading Pools to a comeback greater than Lazarus.

But digging a little deeper, the sacking becomes understandable.

Reportedly Hughes wanted to keep all of the players in the squad that was relegated, including Nathan Luscombe, a chubby, combative lad with raw ability, but seemingly without the psychological skills to properly apply it. Rumours also say that the board and business staff were critical of his lack of contacts – a particular surprise given that he’d managed Hibs and played for Celtic along a much-travelled managerial and playing career.

Along with Hughes, the senior coaching staff was cleared out completely in a ruthless summer. Assistant manager Micky Barron, a former youth team boss as well as captain during two of Pools’ four promotion seasons ended an 18-year spell at the club, and player-coach Ritchie Humphreys, the club’s record appearance holder, was also released.

On the playing side, the release of Humphreys is a bit of a shame, as he’d had a minor Indian summer last year in a solid and steady midfield role, and his ability to hold the ball up front as well as fill in at left-back would have made him a decent option in a number of positions, if unspectacular in any one.

In both cases, it’s a real shame to see men who so clearly love the club and have given so much leave.
But, under a series of managers stretching back to before Danny Wilson’s departure in 2008 play has been jagged and disjointed, so a major change in the coaching staff is understandable.

The appointment of Colin Cooper seems a quietly impressive one. Previously assistant manager at Middlesbrough and Bradford, he was also a key component of a Middlesbrough youth academy that’s become one of the most consistent producers of young local talent in the country.

There seems to be a definite switch towards a philosophy of development, after two years of bringing in a relative ‘marquee’ name both ended in failure. Two summers ago Nobby Solano was signed, but frozen out after half a season when his legs couldn’t cope with new boss Neale Cooper’s high tempo demands, and Steve Howard scored only 3 goals last season, not really linking with his fellow forwards in the clever and combative way you’d hope from a man of his experience. Though both players have class and experience, they’ve shown the danger of investing too big of a portion of the wage bill in one individual.

Rumours abound that 3 signings were blocked on the last day of last year’s August transfer window because of the wage cap, while 2 trialists couldn’t be added to the permanent squad in January for the same reason.

There does seem to be a philosophical switch over the summer, towards pushing the standards of the team as a whole upward.

Alone we can do so little. Hopefully, together we can do so much.

Written by David Stringer, We Are Going Up’s Hartlepool United blogger

David tweets @Joe_Bloghead and writes a weekly Lower League Week column, covering Leagues One and Two, for Bornoffside.net

 

Thank God It’s Nearly Over

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

2012 was a summer of relative optimism – Neale Cooper was half a season into his second spell as manager, and while it hadn’t gone well up till that point, he would now have the chance to make his own signings, having identified a few key weaknesses.

Not quite ‘in Neale we trust’, but not far off.

The team that had finished 13th the previous year had been a team of battlers and grinders, rather than having anything spectacular, but, at the time of Mick Wadsworth’s sacking the previous December, Pools had one of the division’s best away records. The feeling was that Cooper would be able to add a little more class and invention.

The summer signings looked like good ones. Jonathan Franks would bring much needed pace to the wing; in pre-season Simon Walton looked both a good passer and a physical presence, while Steve Howard, returning to his first professional club, would give a focal point to the attacking play.

Howard had talked the talk in pre-season, comparing this side to the Derby side he helped take into the Premiership – maybe not the most talented, but full of application.

Since returning to League One 6 seasons previously, Pools have finished either in mid-table, or reaching almost certain safety, then dropping down the table in the final months. Given that this followed 8 successive seasons of either being relegated, promoted, or finishing in a playoff spot, it was a little hard to take the other extreme.

Pools, who’d lost 5-0 to Wycombe at the back end of last season, managed to lose by the same score this season against Crewe and Preston in the opening months of the season. Defeat to Bury in October, which took Pools bottom of the table, was the last straw, and saw Cooper walk.

The last time the Scot took over, he inherited a team on the back of promotion from League Two, who had finished in the playoffs for 3 successive seasons before that. Perhaps Cooper needed a foundation of strong self-belief to get the best out of players? Regardless, any other manager would probably have been sacked for so many big defeats.

Micky Barron, club captain during both of Hartlepool’s previous promotions and now on the coaching staff, took charge for the FA Cup match at Chesterfield. Morale was already so low among the fans that most expected to go out against the team a division lower, but few expected the 6-1 defeat that came.

John Hughes came in, talking the talk. Although most fans were accepting relegation at that early stage, Hughes has been constantly upbeat, talking about needing to keep fighting until there’s no hope left.

His first game, a tough home match against promotion-chasing Coventry went pretty well, being dogged and goalless at half time. But when the first goal went in, Pools collapsed once more, going on to lose 5-0. If Hartlepool’s season didn’t already sound to you like an impossibly rubbish team created for a melodramatic comedy, it must do by this point.

Slowly though, things improved. If nothing else, the team looked more organised, keeping possession for longer periods, retaining self-belief after going a goal down, and shambolic self-destruction, while still a constant possibility, became less common. When you’re desperate, you take solace in the small things.

And Pools had to look for solace in small things. Victory over Scunthorpe on September 1st (which saw Scunthorpe go bottom at the time) was the first win of the season, and the last win before a club record-breaking run of __ games winless. Bizarrely, the run was broken with victory at Sheffield United, one of the promotion challengers and the biggest crowd Hartlepool have ever won a league game in front of. Steve Howard scored twice in a 3-1 win, taking his tally for the half-season to 3.

In January, Hughes made a switch to 4-3-1-2, a move that didn’t start paying off until Howard and Tony Sweeney were injured, with Jack Baldwin a revelation as a classy central midfielder, and Charlie Wyke impressive as the focal point in a rotating front three.

But during the strong run that followed, Pools didn’t look all that different to before, still lacking a cutting edge, still with few players capable of dribbling past an opponent, and little belief that Pools could grab a goal. But daft errors became less common, and hard work meant that Hartlepool were doing ‘just enough’ to get the win on a number of occasions.

Even during the strong run, Pools have had a ludicrous lack of cutting edge. Portsmouth and Colchester sat deep at Victoria Park, and there’d have been no less chance of grabbing the winning goal if each of those visitors had constructed a brick wall across the goal.

It got so bad – and this is no joke – when chasing a goal late in the Colchester game, I remember thinking that our best chance of scoring would have been to send goalkeeper Scott Flinders up for a corner.

Despite the relative improvement, Pools have had absolutely no-one capable of playing an incisive through ball, and neither Howard or Wyke have been regularly getting on the end of some decent crosses into the area.

Franks is a capable dribbler, but it’s too early into his development to carry the responsibility alone.

Despite having a lack of incision, one player definitely capable of providing it, Luke James, has been held back, with Hughes speaking about the need to protect the 18-year old. Many fans (myself included) have disagreed strongly, to the extent that his name has been chanted when he wasn’t on the pitch, and Hughes’ decisions to bring other players on earlier have been met with chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing”.

Despite the downturn in form, things have still been okay in recent weeks, with Pools roughly competitive for the most part, and not rolling over as easily as near the start of the season.

Hughes still hasn’t, 6 months into his reign, been able to make his first signing. Given the form, income has been significantly lower than the club have hoped. A few signings – including teenagers released by Newcastle in January – have fallen through for this reason.

As a result, the squad’s been very thin. For a recent game at Stevenage, aside from Luke James, the 6 players on the bench, all aged 20 or younger, had 9 professional appearances between them, with goalkeeper Adam McHugh played 6 games on loan at Forfar. Pools had a handful of injuries at this point, but that underlines how little depth the squad has.

The whole season has been an embarrassment. Saturday’s televised game was a pleasant surprise – although Bradley Wright-Phillips was allowed a free run on goal in the first minute, the overall display was better than the norm, with Franks and James linking pretty well – a positive sign for the future.

The hard work and application is certainly there at Pools, but if there’s to be any chance of coming back up next season, the squad needs more class and invention.

Written by David Stringer, We Are Going Up’s Hartlepool United blogger

David tweets @Joe_Bloghead and writes a weekly Lower League Week column, covering Leagues One and Two, for Bornoffside.net

Fighting Spirit Restored at Victoria Park

Monday, February 25th, 2013

In December 2011, with Hartlepool solidly in midtable, the board made the decision to remove Mick Wadsworth as manager, reappointing club legend Neale Cooper.

Despite signs of promise – a battling 2-2 draw at Sheffield Wednesday and a 4-0 home victory over a decent Carlisle side, Cooper’s Pools never really clicked into place, winning 2 of the last 13 games.

Despite some awful results – a 5-0 defeat against relegation battlers Wycombe among them – fans had faith that Cooper could build a promotion-worthy Hartlepool side. After all, we knew he was capable of it, and the passion for the club and the job was clearly still there.

The general feeling over the summer was that the essence of a good team was already in place. All that was needed was a defensive midfielder to replace Gary Liddle; a right-winger, preferably with a bit of pace; a centre-forward and a goal poacher.

Simon Walton ran the centre of midfield in pre-season, looking physical, skilful and composed – if anything an improvement on Gary Liddle. Jonathan Franks came in from Middlesbrough with a strong reputation, and Steve Howard, returning to his first professional club, has been one of the Football League’s best target men in recent years.

Granted, there was no-one with a proven goal record among the signings. But the transfer window was still open – Ryan Noble, who’d spent time on loan with Pools at the end of last season, was linked with another temporary move, and there was the possibility of uncovering the final piece of the jigsaw somewhere else.

All of that came crashing down on the opening day of the season, with a 5-0 cup defeat to newly promoted Crewe.

It’s amazing in retrospect that it wasn’t immediately obvious to the fans that Pools were in trouble. Maybe it was because of the faith Cooper had earned from his first spell, or because his style of play was an in your face, hearts on sleeves type of football, which even in his first spell meant a few big defeats when things didn’t quite go right.

Former Hibs boss John Hughes was appointed as Cooper’s successor in November, a 5-0 defeat at home to Coventry in his first game in charge the fifth time in 2012 Pools lost by five goals.

Though Hughes has constantly been positive, talking about the possibility of survival, fans were in agreement that the remaining two-thirds of the season were all about preparing for promotion from League Two next year.

Given that, on Boxing Day, the club record run of games without victory was extended to 22 games, most fans would have accepted respectable defeats with a few goals between then and the end of the season.

Victory at Sheffield United at the end of the year is difficult to explain as anything other than an aberration, or maybe just that it took place at a time when the pressure of needing to go up was getting to the Blades.

The more recent turnaround in results has come about because of a change in tactics that was partially Hughes’ innovation, partially enforced. To Hughes’ credit, he switched to a 4-3-1-2 that few were calling for, with Franks in a free role behind the front men and stalwart Ritchie Humphreys recalled to the midfield.

But the current run (4 wins and 2 draws from 6) overlaps with two injuries. Charlie Wyke replaced Steve Howard as the target man, and James Poole came in as his partner, giving the front three more pace and energy. And when Tony Sweeney limped off against Bournemouth, Jack Baldwin, a classy and versatile young defensive player, took Sweeney’s role as the box-to-box midfielder.

The change in personnel overlapped precisely with the current unbeaten streak (though in fairness it also coincided with a confidence building visit to Portsmouth).

Recent performances indicate that confidence has been a major problem earlier in the season. Earlier in the season Walton showed his skills, but separately, rather than as a whole. His tackling was committed, but often late; his passing ambitious, but inappropriate. Similarly, James Poole has had a recent resurgence – his goal against Notts County was a skilful takedown and calm finish under pressure; against Scunthorpe, as well as scoring he had the confidence to attempt a volley from 25 yards, which struck the crossbar. Poole had a run of spectacular goals when he first arrived at the club in the summer of 2011 but he’s currently trying things he didn’t even try for a long time.

That’s not to say things have totally turned around – confidence and/or creativity is still an issue. At home to Portsmouth, despite pushing the opposition back for large sections of the match, when Pompey sat deep and tight, there was never really a sense that Pools would be able to find a way through, the game ending 0-0.

And there is still a fair bit of tension in the players and on the terraces – the passing style of play Hughes is trying to encourage seems more successful away from Victoria Park, and players rushed and nervous at times.

In the come from behind victory against Scunthorpe, Hughes’ decision to remove Walton rather than Humphreys from the centre of midfield was greeted with cries of “You don’t know what you’re doing” and, with Jonathan Franks having a flat game, there were cries for Luke James to be introduced long before he was.

Perhaps the reason Hughes is currently succeeding where Cooper failed is his ability to build a fighting spirit in the players. In Cooper’s first spell, he inherited a team that had finished in either the playoffs or automatic promotion places in what’s now League Two for four years in a row, and pushed them to higher standards.

Recent games have seen skill, invention, and stunning late turnarounds. But while the creative renaissance of Walton and Poole in particular is to be applauded, it’s the renewed battling spirit that’s been the consistent key to recent results.

At the time of writing, Hartlepool United are still second bottom, eight points adrift of safety. But the gap is closing – Pools might actually be in this relegation battle…

Written by David Stringer, We Are Going Up’s Hartlepool United blogger

David tweets @Joe_Bloghead and writes a weekly Lower League Week column, covering Leagues One and Two, for Bornoffside.net

(Image originally taken from here)

What Now, Who Next?

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Hartlepool United sit bottom of League One. That’s right, stone cold last, bottom of League One without a win in eleven games and struggling to maintain any form, relegation beckons. To add to Pool’s misery they are now without a manager due to Neale Cooper’s resignation.

Never go back they say in football! Things will not be the same second time around. When the club announced Cooper was to arrive at the club for a second spell in charge fans began to believe that the good times would return to Victoria Park this season. Sadly they haven’t. For a man loved by the fans during his first spell in charge in 2005, it has ended badly.

His resignation despite what you think of him has come at the right time. Pools have only won seven games from 43 during his tenure as manager. Their away form has been dreadful and the club have conceded far too many late goals. The responsibility for how the players perform for the full ninety minutes falls on the managers shoulders.

The signings Cooper made have not performed and just recently we have been scrambling around to get young players in on loan from other clubs that we do not need. We have perfectly good talent in players like Luke James that last season were terrific and who I feel haven’t been given a fair crack of the whip recently.

The players have clearly not connected with the manager and it has been clear for all to see. Changing the captaincy despite Sam Collins being out of form all year was in my opinion a bad move and players like Steve Howard who the manager had great expectations for have been left fending for themselves upfront without any support.

Being openly critical of his players in the media ultimately led to him losing the dressing room. In the modern game now managers are required to have good man management skills. His passion and hunger for the game were second to none but ultimately in this day and age you can’t be critical of your own players. After all our players are good enough they have proved it before in previous seasons.

The outgoing manager tried everything he could to turn Pools fortune around, but there is no sentiment in football. The clubs ‘never say die’ attitude will live on and Hartlepool United will continue to plough on through the struggle. However, there is just one question remaining, who will be the new man in charge?

Phil Brown, Ian Bogie, Micky Barron and Sean Dyche appear to be just some of the early front runners to fill the vacant managers position. Chairman Ken Hodcroft must get this choice right as Pool’s future firmly rests on his decision.

The new man, whoever it may be, must galvanize the players and help them find their confidence again. If this is achieved, gone are the days the club will sit bottom of the table.

I would personally like to see someone with experience come in, someone who’s been there done it before and can elevate the club to the next level. Perhaps someone like Phil Brown would be a good fit; he has connections to the club and is from the North so he would be an obvious candidate. The alternative to this is to possibly pinch another club’s manager from the league below.

League Two has some good managers plying their trade well in the game, maybe someone like Mark Yates or Micky Mellon would be worth looking at. Fans of their clubs may not thank me for suggesting such names, but I think it makes perfect sense and it would give someone an opportunity to step up.

Hopefully the Hartlepool players can focus their minds for the game on Saturday against Brentford in the mean time, as we desperately need some points. Playing for the supporters and giving some good performances should be what they are looking to achieve now whilst the search for the new manager concludes.

Written by John Mason, We Are Going Up’s Hartlepool United blogger

John tweets at @johnmason_29

Pick it up Pools!

Friday, August 17th, 2012

Hands up Pools fans, who is expecting a big season? I think the general feeling amongst fans this season is we would like a big improvement having spent the last two loitering towards the foot of the League One table. Hopefully things are going to change as Neale Cooper begins his first full season in charge.

So far this summer we have seen a fair bit more transfer activity than normal. Neale, wanting to stamp his authority on the team, decided he was going to axe the players he felt he no longer needed and who could no longer do a job for the club. The senior players to head the list for release included Adam Boyd, James Brown and Nolberto Solano but perhaps the biggest shock of all was allowing Gary Liddle to leave. Cooper obviously feeling the need for change there and thinking he had been coasting in our midfield for too long.

The players brought into the side however, have added a lot more quality to the side. Ritchie Humphreys has been retained, Jonathan Franks has been snapped up on a free and Simon Walton has been brought in from Plymouth. Perhaps the most significant signing though is the return of beloved Pools striker Steve Howard. Turning down the opportunity to remain in the Championship with a number of clubs who were after his signature, its Hartlepool who have ended up securing his services. I know fans are chomping at the bit to see him put back on the Pools shirt he once wore before.

Looking at the way pre season has gone, it has been a mixed turn of events so far. The away tour of Holland didn’t go quite so well with Cooper’s team losing both games against Dutch opponents. Since back on English soil though, results have picked up with the squad working hard in pre season training and looking a lot fitter. A win over Sunderland at Home and two good draws against Championship opposition in Hull City have left the fans looking forward to the new season with high expectation.

The league however looks very strong this year. Hartlepool generally tend to start the season well but tail off towards the end. As for the other clubs, Sheffield United are going to strong again combined with a few other sides like Doncaster, MK Dons, Carlisle and Swindon. If Pools can compete with these kinds of teams with the bigger budgets, then we should be well on the way to success.

I think the club can benefit from a few more signings yet, perhaps another striker as we have struggled to score in the past and even another wide player to provide that bit more width to the side. All you can ask for is a steady season and one where we can perhaps finish higher up the table than in recent years.

Written by John Mason, We Are Going Up’s Hartlepool United blogger

John tweets at @johnmason_29

Hartlepool United End Of Season Report

Friday, April 20th, 2012

Player of the season

There have been many good performances throughout the year from Hartlepool, despite our mid-table position. On the number of occasions I have been to see them, I have been impressed with the way the club have defended as a unit. I would like to highlight a couple of players who I would put forward for the award, before making a decision.

Evan Horwood, at left back has been very consistent. Scoring a few cracking goals this season screamer and being many of the fan’s favourite he has rarely missed a game for Pools. An attacking full back with a mean delivery, he can certainly hurt other teams going forward as well as doing a good job for the defence.

Sam Collins, one of the club’s longest serving players, the experienced centre half with a wise head on him has once more excelled for Pools in another long hard fought season. A prominent figure in the back line for the team, when he is not playing you seem to notice as the back line does not cope as well without him.

Paul Murray, marshalling the midfield, just in front of the defence this stern, hard nut, holding midfielder does a tidy job sweeping up and protecting the back four for United. Making the midfield tick with his distribution and leadership, he has been second to none and instrumental in the team this season.

The Verdict = Evan Horwood

The left back takes the award this season for me, from many fans and journalists I have spoken to up north this season from the games I have been to seem to agree, not being able to say a bad word about him.

Young Player of the season

There is only one winner here I’m afraid. Although I will give two special mentions who could run him close in years to come. Hartlepool have focused a lot this year on youth, and since the turn of the year looked to integrate some of the younger lads into the first team. These players are Greg Rutherford and Jack Baldwin. Both have made limited appearances for Pools, but look worthy stars of tomorrow. Each have prominent futures at the club, hopefully in the first team again next season.

The Verdict = Luke James

One lad who totally stands out head and shoulders above the rest. Seventeen year old, teenage sensation, Luke James. This young man’s career has taken off since giving the chance to play upfront with strikers like Adam Boyd, Ryan Noble and Anthony Sweeney. Nobody expected this young man to be quite the talent he is at the moment. Scoring three goals in twelve appearances he is certainly one to watch out for.

Unsung hero and under-performing player

For this award, it is hard to look beyond three players. Sam Collins, Anthony Sweeney and Paul Murray have been equally impressive and don’t tend to get much of the praise associated to when the team perform well. Hard-working, reliable and willing are a few words used to describe these different individuals.

As for under-performing player, not really an accolade anyone wants to be associated with, and I don’t like to single anyone out for criticism but I think either Adam Boyd or James Poole this season. Boydy, because his best years are surely behind him now and in the words of the manager recently in a press conference, ‘He isn’t exactly going to run past anyone,’ referring to the type of player he is…a slow one.

James Poole because, I don’t feel he has shown his true potential yet. He has struggled with injury throughout out much of this season, which Pools fans may question my judgement as to why I am mentioning him. Being slightly harsh when he was fit he only showed his potential moments of class when at the beginning of the season for a short period of time. In and out the team, he could never seem to hold down a starting position which he badly needs if he is to progress at Pools.

Team of the season

Again this is what I think, having been to games this year most Hartlepool fans may agree or disagree but I have decided on my final eleven. There are one or two players who perhaps may have got in had they not been injured like James Poole and other late arrivals to the team such as striker Ryan Noble who have only recently joined. Therefore these players miss out unfortunately.

GK – Scott Flinders
LB – Evan Horwood
CB – Peter Hartley
CB – Sam Collins
RB – Neil Austin
LM – Andy Monkhouse
CM – Gary Liddle
CM – Paul Murray
RM – Ritchie Humphreys
ST– Anthony Sweeney
ST– Luke James

The team pretty much picks itself this season as the squad has looked a bit thin on the ground in recent weeks towards the end of the year. I’m sure that manager, Neale Cooper, has been brought in to put his on stamp on the team next season and I’m certain that most of that team will be completely different.

Best and worst moment of the season

The best moment of the season for me was watching James Poole come on from the substitute bench in some of the first few games of the season and practically score with his first touch twice against MK Dons and Rochdale. Not just scoring, but his goals in those two games were pure class. I remember jumping out of my seat on both occasions in sheer amazement at what I had witnessed. Two fabulous goals worthy of being in the Premier League, they were that damn good.

The worst moment of the season, has probably been in the last few weeks. Performances have tailed off and I am certain most of the players already feel like they are already on holiday for the summer. Not winning at home at the Vic in front of our own supporters since February, has been a bit of a worry, and it would be nice to see the club end the season on a positive rather than a negative in what has been another decent season for the club in mid-table.

How the team can improve for next season?

Pools fans will be thinking déjà vu to last year. How can we improve? In my opinion I am almost certain the manager will bring in one, maybe two, strikers. Hartlepool in my opinion lack goals, especially at home and this should be assessed. As for other positions the club may need strengthening, I hear Neale Cooper likes to play with natural wingers with pace; this is something the club do not have. All signs point to suggesting he’ll sign a couple of players he is familiar with to play in these vacant positions.

Written by John Mason, We Are Going Up’s Hartlepool United Blogger

John tweets at @johnmason_29

Roll out the red carpet treatment, again!

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

On Wednesday it was decided that after Micky Barron’s temporary spell in charge of Hartlepool United was to come to an end, Neale Cooper would return to to the club as First Team Coach and pick up where he left off six years ago.

Cooper previously left the club due to family circumstances at the time, but had always expressed a desire to return. The appointment is something as a surprise but one I’m sure the fans will be happy with.

Will that old saying “never go back” be apt? Probably not. Pools sit comfortably away from relegation and are closer to the play off zone in a respectable twelfth spot. It is just the home form which needs addressing, and once the balance of winning home games and picking up points away from home – that Hartlepool generally are quite good at doing – then the club could find themselves in a healthy position come the end of the season.

Another dilemma facing Cooper  is whether or not to strengthen the squad, or to let some players go in order to make room for some of his own come in. The morale of the squad I expect is quite low, although I’m sure their latest win at Oldham has given the club heart. One thing Cooper does have as an advantage is the good staff around him and he will still know many of the players. Morale is key and he might try to bring in one or two new faces to assert his authority and look to freshen things up a little.

The fans seem to be buzzing with excitement and anticipation as many hold the new boss in high regard, as he is one of the most successful managers in Hartlepool history. Many will be reserving their judgement until he gets a good run of results under his belt, but the fans will begin to believe again and if that transpires across to the players, who knows what could happen?

As for Cooper, he guided Pools into the play-offs during his first season as manager in 2003/04, only to lose agonisingly to Bristol City across two legs. He then took the club into the play-offs again the following year, only to walk away at the last minute and see his side lose their play-off final to Sheffield Wednesday. I’m sure this time he will be looking to right a few wrongs and guide Pools once more towards the top half of the table.

Was this appointment the easy option? We all understand as fans that there is no money but I imagine to pay the dignified Mick Wadsworth off cost the club quite a bit. They then appoint a manager who they stated already knows the players and can work with existing members of staff instead of being given the option to bring in his own. Could this be seen as a cheap scam? A appointment that was inevitable? We’ll have to wait and see.

Written by John Mason, We Are Going Up’s Hartlepool United Blogger

John tweets at @john_mason29

Heroes return in the nick of time

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Antony Sweeney and Nolberto Solano’s returns from injury are timely interventions for Hartlepool United. Pools managed to get themselves back to winning ways at the weekend with a 2-0 victory over Scunthorpe United. The match coincided with both players returning to the starting elven and Sweeney making the score sheet, as the team thrived having them both back.

The team’s strength in all honesty is not amazing, and when the club tend to lose key players like Sweeney and Solano, it is hard to sustain morale and gain results. The club is run on a tight budget and most of the players bought in, like many others are usually free transfers. Thus it is hard to replace quality with quality when players go missing through injuries. Due to this, Hartlepool’s results always seem to deteriorate around Christmas, and it is around this time of year things start to take a turn for the worse.

Having said all this strength of the squad looks better this season more than most. So much so, that when Mick Wadsworth was asked if he thought the strength of the squad would need improving when the loan market re-opens, the manager stated he would be sticking by his current bunch of players. On the whole supporters agree with his belief, though sometimes Hartlepool can lack goals and another striking option would not be a bad move. Missing out on Lomano Tresor Lua Lua was upsetting as he chose to join Blackpool, after training with Pools – but bringing someone else in would be what fans want to see.

Looking back at Saturday’s action and Pools performance, it was nice to see the club back to winning ways and in the goals. Solano provided the width in order to exploit the Scunthorpe defence while Sweeney’s drive and determination helped to give the side more of an offensive threat. Pools have an excellent record of just one defeat in nine away league games and this showed on Saturday, it was pleasing to see everyone pulling together to put in a performance.

Thinking about the opposition and Hartlepool as a small club, it is amazing to think that they have just given a team who were recently a Championship outfit a good beating. However with Scunthorpe struggling and expectation levels being so high these days it is something one has to expect. As a Pools follower, I will always be proud of the club and how far they have come, and still continue to progress for such a small town and club.

This season the main question is can the club kick on through the Christmas period? The answer is most definitely yes. The manager is adiment the players have learnt from last year’s mistakes. The fixture list looks unkind to Pools going into the new year, but if they can continue to pick up points and at least not lose games over the festive period, it may just prove to good season for Hartlepool.

Written by John Mason, We Are Going Up’s Hartlepool United Blogger

John tweets at @john_mason29

No Repeat Performance Please

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

After a repeat defeat on Sunday at Notts County for the second season running, Hartlepool do not want a repeat performance of last year where the remainder of their season tails off. Impressive inroads have been made to try to take the club forward this campaign. Mick Wadsworth has been given the permanent post of manager to try and install that extra belief in the players to go on another good run under his guidance. The gamble to give him an extended stay has paid off so far with them sitting in 9th place in the League One table with a game in hand.

Although the team lost 3-0 at the weekend and have now lost two games in a row, they have made an excellent start this year. The club went nine games unbeaten before finally surrendering their form to Sheffield Wednesday at home, with the curse of being mentioned on the Football League Show and having Mark Clemmit to come visit them being an obvious excuse for losing. Not many will have expected little old Hartlepool to be up there from the start this year, but the manager and players maintain that if they can be up the top of the league after Christmas they could well feature in and around the play-off’s this season.

However, Pools fan will be hoping that they don’t fall from grace and slide down the table like last season – after suffering defeat at Notts County they fell dramatically from in and around the play-offs to managing to just stay out of the relegation battle. Most fans believe that this year Hartlepool have strengthened and have certainly added more grit and determination to their rank. Lacking a killer instinct last season, I watched them many times and thought they manage to stay in games, but fell away towards the last third of matches.

This season they have added a few additions to the team in James Poole, Nathan Luscombe, Colin Nish and of course Nolberto Solano. As you can tell from that little list they have really focused on scoring goals and going forward. Usually solid at the back, the team definitely lacked goals last season, whereas this season they are coming in abundance. James Poole and Nathan Luscombe have hit the ground running and scored some superb goals between them. Despite not featuring regularly in the starting line-up, they are more utilised as impact players and are already becoming fans favourites for turning and winning matches.

Nolberto Solano, nicknamed by many adoring fans across the globe as ‘Nobby’, has provided width and his set piece ability to the squad is clear for all to see; scoring already this season with a couple of glorious free kicks. He is a good character to have within the team and one that provides the team with a level head of experience that is better than the majority within League One.

Finally, Colin Nish is a player who has had to work hard to convince the fans he is worth his place. Although, thankfully, he’s winning them over now; he’s not been particularly potent, but the manager has stuck by him in that he offers a target man up front – the ultimate necessity at this level.

I just pray that this season, and having watched them this Sunday and witnessed first hand how badly they played, that Hartlepool don’t slip back into their old ways and they can push on to improve upon last season’s performance in the league. I’m sure you Pools fans out there like me and Jeff Stelling will be hoping for something to shout about in the near future.

Written by John Mason, We Are Going Up’s Hartlepool United Blogger

John tweets at @john_mason29