IT was the worst of times; certainly not the best of them.
The past 12 months have been among the bleakest in Hartlepool United’s recent history. Just when it looked like the bad days, those of pre ownership by Increased Oil Recovery were gone, so they returned with a vengance.
Last December, Pools were in a rut and former boss Neale Cooper returned to the club as manager in a bid to recreate his glory days.
It’s a sign of just how good it was at Victoria Park under Cooper from 2003-2005 that he left the club last month with his popularity and standing pretty much intact.
While his return was all good for sentimentality reasons, unfinished business and all that, it proved disastrous.
There was the odd spark, but for the majority of it, Pools were about defeats, not scoring goals, conceding too many goals too frequently and not winning enough games.
By the time he left, the dressing room was in pieces, the team had little to no shape and even less belief.
It was hoped that Cooper’s charisma and bubbly outlook would inspire the players, to drag them out of the abysmal run of form they were in.
Despite his efforts and undoubted passion for the club and the town, Pools spent 2012 going backwards under Cooper.
The year did start somewhat promising. Victory over Rochdale in Cooper’s second game in charge was a decent start – and it was Pools’ first home win in ten games.
When it was followed up with a couple of decent draws and convincing wins over Carlisle and Notts County, it looked like the old spark was back.
But a defeat at Wycombe, when Pools were rolled over 5-0, was a sign of things to come, the second half of 2011 especially.
Because when the season started with a Capital One Cup defeat at Crewe with the same result and performance it set the tone.
Cooper raged after the game and, when a manager is talking of players needing to stick with him and the season hasn’t even got going yet, it shows how fragile things were.
It collapsed like a pack of cards around him, Cooper left with his head bowed and his pride dented.
In came John Hughes, a Scot like Cooper, but a more astute tactician and coach. He’s started to improve things, albeit from a very low base.
Player of the year: Scott Flinders – consistent and consistently overworked.
Flop of the year: Nathan Luscombe – natural talent in abundance, but it’s about application.
Game of the year: Hartlepool United 4 Carlisle United 0, January 28– the best victory under Neale Cooper, Pools, with Luke James outstanding, ran the visitors ragged.
Goal of the year: Luke James (v Rochdale, January 7) – the teenager burst onto the scene with am instinctive 25-yard belter.