Buckle up, Here We Go Again!


You know, I was really starting to enjoy the close season. Long summer days, Saturdays and the occasional Tuesday evening were now my own, enjoying day trips to Northumberland and North Yorkshire and even The Headland. 

Best of all, excluding the Women's footy, there was no Match of the Day to watch and having to listen to Gary Lineker pontificating about anything and everything with the exception of the taking away of the TV Licence from over 75's. I noticed he did not say anything at all on Twitter about Pepsi closing the Walkers crisp factory down in Peterlee. I was horrified to learn that it would take 11,500 licence fees to pay his annual salary. Don't get me on about Claudia Winkleman or Graham Norton. But I digress.

It has to be said that the back end of May and early June were so relaxing and stress-free for me until Craig Hignett started signing players en masse for Pools. It was even rumoured that at one stage Hignett was looking to sign the entire Gateshead squad. Surprisingly for some, Scott Loach hadn't got the words out of his mouth that he was leaving the club when Ben Killip from Braintree becomes Pools' number one. Suddenly my appetite was re- whetted and I went down to the Vic and ordered my season ticket much earlier than in the past.

I began counting down the days not to when the football season began but when the pre-season matches started. At one point it seemed as if Pools were signing players on an hourly basis. Craig Hignett then stated in the media that he had used up all of the budget that Raj had allocated to his recruitment of new players. Fair enough but then in the next breath the excellent Jason Kennedy puts pen to paper.

Reading between the lines, the number and quality of players that Pools have signed all point to Raj and Craig Hignett having an agenda of making a genuine and realistic attempt of getting Hartlepool United out of this God-forsaken league. Close season I had my doubts, and like many I was once again, not unlike the previous season, more than disappointed when the club announced its retained list as in my view three or four more players should have been released. 

I began to question Pools' ambition for the 2019/20 season as I could not understand why Carl Magnay was apparently offered a new deal. A good player and a nice lad but on his own admission he did not want to play right back any more because of his lack of pace, much preferring to play in a central role, where we already have a surfeit of centre halves. Allied to this is his recent record of injuries which showed that, through no fault of his own, we were only getting half a season out of him. I know it sounds hard but surely freeing up his wage would allow someone else to come into the club. Worst-case scenario financially and from a playing point of view for the club, could possibly have seen both Magnay as well as Luke Williams in the treatment room for most, if not all of the of the season.
"At one point it seemed as if Pools were signing players on an hourly basis."

You could have knocked me sideways and bowled me over backwards when I read in the Mail that a certain midfielder had resigned. However when I re-read the piece I had obviously mistaken 're-signed' for 'resigned'. In light of the number of quality midfielders that we now have in the club I am wondering if Craig Hignett might be regretting his haste in re-signing this player.

Having been on holiday I only managed to get to the Billy Town and Macclesfield pre-season games but out of the new signings the two who have stood out so far are Gus Mafuta and Jason Kennedy. Mafuta has a physical presence. He has pace and something that our midfield has not had in many a year - he's a midfielder who will actually break up attacks as well as bring the ball forward, and he is not afraid of letting his opponents know that he is there. I am surprised that Salford actually let him go. I firmly believe that he will become a crowd favourite in time.

Kennedy only played in the second half of the game against Billy Town but in that short time he controlled the game without running round like a daft Alsatian and was involved with everything. That is called experience and the lad has shed-loads of it. Not once did he lose the ball. He was always available to give and receive a pass and linked up well with Liam Noble, even having a hand in one of the goals.

We seem to have a decent-sized squad blessed with central defenders and midfielders, so much so that when it was announced that Hawkes and Molyneux are likely to be out for the first few games of the new season, instead of that being a crisis, other players seamlessly slot in and take their places, which also offers competition for the shirt and reduces the chances of players feigning injury.

A problem area which looks as if steps have been taken to resolve is that of the man between the sticks. Scotty Loach was a fans' favourite who gave his all for the club but has now moved on. In truth I would have let him go in any event. Despite having the benefit of a goalkeeping coach at the club, the lad would rarely come off his line and preferred to punch a ball out rather than catch it. Loach was probably one of best shot stoppers in the league but in almost every game he would parry the ball back into play in a dangerous area, normally straight into the path of an on rushing opponent, with dire consequences in some cases. It was definitely time for a change. Ben Killip seems very assured but in truth, apart from videos of his time at Braintree, I have only seen him play twice and apart from one save he did not have anything to do in either match.

The left back position since Ritchie left the club has never been suitably filled but R.C Noble, who has signed for the rest of the season from Huddersfield Town, seems capable of addressing the problems in this area. Some of the main attributes needed at National League level are pace, physicality, height and aggression, things that Pools have lacked in abundance for many a season. Hignett seems to have taken this into account and hopefully we will not see Pools bullied, even on home turf, as they so often were last season. It will be good to see Pools dishing it out for a change both physically and vocally - Raynes and Mafuta spring to mind.

Pools also need to be more savvy re opponents' time-wasting and play acting and need to be in the ref's ear more often, in the manner of Liam Noble.

My main area of concern is the forward line as we do not have a natural instinctive goalscorer. Hopefully I am wrong but I am sure that James, Kabamba, Muir and Toure will all chip in but I would be surprised if any of them reach double figures. Once again I think the goals will come via the midfield or, if he is fit, Luke Williams.

You know, it just could be our season.

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