Hartlepool United are third bottom of the Football League and have just lost 2-1 at the bottom club Leyton Orient. This is the fourth season in a row the club has been fighting against relegation from League Two, Nick Loughlin looks at four key factors affecting the club.
WHO OWNS HARTLEPOOL UNITED?
AFTER 18 safe and steady years, IOR and Ken Hodcroft were replaced by JPNG and Gary Coxall. It’s fair to say there’s been more financial strife in the last two years than the previous two decades.
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Coxall arrived and promised improvement on a few fronts. Progress? There’s been little. He may be prolific on Twitter, promising better times ahead, but it appears easier to convince people in 140 characters that things are fine (or going to be fine) than it is in real life.
There’s been winding up orders, the first of which was put down to an accountancy software error, loans from a private company – Access Finance – and slight delays in staff wages.
The second winding-up order was resolved in agreement with HMRC. The Access Finance loan has been paid off in full, covered by a company called Sage Investments Limited.
Pam Duxbury was recently introduced as the club’s financial director, and now appears to be running the club. She was at Orient on Easter Monday, visibly disappointed at the outcome.
Coxall was also there, the first game he’s attended in a recent times after being a regular home and away and he appears of late to be taking a step from the frontline.
Coxall and JPNG had a silent partner in Peter Goldberg, who was, in effect, the money man in the operation. When he walked away, Coxall was left high and dry and he’s turned to Sage for their nous and financial support.
The chairman said on arrival that his background was in sponsorship and corporate arrangements. He’s often used Twitter to announce he’s been working on fresh deals. In almost two years his main work seems to have consisted of securing sponsorship for Victoria Park and renaming it The Northern Gas and Power Stadium.
This is the fifth successive season Pools have scrapped against relegation. It's the town's club, but the town doesn't feel part of it anymore.
Supporters appear to have lost the will to fight it. Jeff Stelling, celebrity fan and club vice president, has let it know his thoughts on the situation on and off the pitch after Monday. He deserves to be listened to from above.
CRAIG Hignett was axed in January after a defeat at Crawley and they were on 26 points from 27 games. Dave Jones was appointed instantly and after a defeat at Orient on Monday they are on 43 points from 43 games.
The more things change the more they stay the same. There’s been no new manager bounce, no lift or improvement. Jones has three wins from 17 games, four draws and nine defeats.
Only Paul Murray, in charge for just seven games, has a worse record since John MacPhail back in 1994.
Why has a manager like Jones, with a CV and experience like he possesses, failed to make an impact? Sometimes the fit is wrong between manager and club and Jones and his assistants have yet to dovetail with Hartlepool United.
He demands a lot of club staff, nothing wrong with that and managers have to crack the proverbial whip, and he gets what he wants, but spirit and morale has been badly affected. At a club like Pools with a handful of staff behind the scenes, it’s a delicate balance to keep them on side and get a lot out of them especially when you have only raked in 13 points from a possible 48.
Pools have just taken two points from three games against teams who had taken a total of five from the previous 69 available to them.
Sam Collins recently left the club, with Jones wanting a fresh outlook to the backroom staff. Would Collins have proved an invaluable buffer between the squad, staff and management if he was still there?
TACTICS AND SYSTEMS
Under Hignett, Pools played too much football at times, passing it around with little end product.
It seemed that under Jones, Pools were going a bit more direct with more forceful support to the lone striker from deep. But that didn’t last long. Jones felt against Portsmouth last month the players were reverting to type by trying to play too much football at times when under pressure. Since then they have played with little plan or shape, a mishmash of wanting to hit it long to striker Padraig Amond, who for all his effort and willingness is no Billy Paynter targetman, and playing short passes from the back and into midfield and getting nowhere with it.
Playing Brad Walker at centre-half worked at first, the midfielder adapted well to a role he was thrown into. In the last couple of games, he’s struggled and looked like he is playing out of position. Surely it’s time to get the experienced defensive head of Matthew Bates in the back line?
In the absence of full-backs Liam Donnelly and Kenton Richardson, do Pools switch to three at the back and keep Walker in there?
And, with three games to go, Jones yet has to find a way to get the most of Nathan Thomas – he’s a matchwinner on his day. He’s been wide, and played through the middle too, but appears to be playing with a weight on his shoulders, rather than the free flowing winger of earlier in the season, albeit before his injury.
You have to go back to when Pools signed Richard Barker in January 2007 for the last resounding success in the transfer market. Recruitment has, for too long, been poor.
Of the current squad, only Thomas, Padraig Amond and Trevor Carson could be deemed a real success. The rest? Nice blokes, good professionals, but no spirit or fire about them.
Last summer and Hignett was given plenty of scope – within limits of course – to shape the squad.
In came Toto Nsiala, a calamity of a defender, Nicky Deverdics, still to show anything like the form of playing in the National League last season, Lewis Alessandra, relegated with York 12 months ago, and Amond, who at least has 14 goals to his name in a poor side.
Pools also signed a pack of young players, with the idea of developing them from their Under-21s and moving them on. Jake Orrell, James Martin, Ben Pollock, Harly Wise and Isaac Assenso proved futile recruits.
And then there’s Devante Rodney, a striker signed on the recommendation of the club’s head of recruitment Paul Watson. He was given 30 minutes on Monday, replacing Amond; a bewildering decision by Jones.
There’s a complete imbalance to the squad, no depth and a lack of leaders. Some of them froze at Leyton Orient on Monday said Jones. They froze? Against the worst team in English football who fielded six trainees in the starting XI? Some of this lot are beyond redemption now. Some of them live the footballer’s lifestyle, but they are aloof to what is going on in reality.
As Ronnie Moore warned two years ago: get relegated and most of them will be stacking shelves in Asda next season.