Six freed by Pools - will there be more to come?

HIDING IN AGONY: Evan Horwood hides his face after his knee was stamped on, he was later stretchered off and replaced by Steve Haslam.

HIDING IN AGONY: Evan Horwood hides his face after his knee was stamped on, he was later stretchered off and replaced by Steve Haslam.

First published in Football
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The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

TEN days after their six-season stay in League One ended, Hartlepool United yesterday announced an underwhelming retained list.

The anticpated grand clear-out at Victoria Park of the squad that finished second bottom, winning only nine times failed to materialise.

Six players were released, with only one of them - left-back Evan Horwood - a first-team regular.

The others to depart are Nathan Luscombe, Nathan Buddle, Paul Johnson, Adam McHugh and Colin Nish.

Hartlepool-born Horwood made 33 starts this season in League One, while of the other five to depart, only Luscombe appeared in the starting XI, and that on just two occasions.

Nish spent the season on loan at Dundee after a desperate first campaign at Victoria Park, making only 12 starts after his switch from Hibernian.

Options on the contracts of Neil Austin, James Poole and Lewis Hawkins have been taken up and they will be part of John Hughes' squad for next season. Hughes is currently on holiday, and so are a number of his players.

Decisions have still to be announced on the futures of a number of other players, with Sam Collins, Ritchie Humphreys and Andy Monkhouse among those out of contract and entering talks with the club.

A club statement concluded: "Discussions are continuing with other remaining First Team players and more information will be made available in due course.''

Among those due for talks is Steve Howard. The striker spent the back end of the season in the Championship after moving to Sheffield Wednesday on loan, but still has a year left of his Pools deal.

He scored against Middlesbrough for the Owls at the weekend and admitted he wants to stay at Hillsborough after an unhappy season at Pools, when he notched only three times.

As one of the club's highest earners, Pools would welcome the chance to get the 36-year-old off their wage bill.

All contracted players at Victoria Park have their deals reduced by 20 per cent following relegation and it remains to be seen if those out of contract whose names were not on yesterday's list are prepared to accept new contracts on reduced terms, or opt to reject any offers and try to find a new club.

Hughes last week admitted: "There's an understanding from me to the supporters that in this financial climate things are different after relegation - finances are different in League Two and there has to be an understanding that you can only get the players in that the budget allows.

"We just look and keep players what the budget demands, so there's a lot of work to do.''

Twelve months ago, midfielder Gary Liddle turned down Pools' offer. After six seasons at the club, he moved to Notts County on a free and ended up sweeping the board at the club's player of the year awards.

He picked up the gongs for manager's player of the year as well as those from the play, fans and the supporters club.

He was also presented with a special merit award for becoming Notts' first outfield player not to miss a minute of league action in 30 years.

Steve Fletcher, the Hartlepool-born striker who was part of Pools' 1991 promotion-winning squad has retired from playing after gaining promotion to the Championship with Bournemouth from League One.

He scored 134 goals in 834 career games and is likely to stay with the Cherries in a non-playing capacity.

Season tickets went on sale at Victoria Park yesterday.

Following the success of the last two deals, Pools have again pegged prices back with adults paying just £150, students and senior citizens £125, Under 19s £75 and Under 16s £50.

First to secure his ticket was Michael Robson, who said: "I have been a season ticket holder for 13 years and was always going to renew," said Robson, who sits in the Cyril Knowles Stand.

"I think I probably had a grumble the night our relegation was confirmed but when I woke up the next morning I knew I'd be back next season.''

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