SECOND DIVISION new-boys Hartlepool United last night dramatically ended manager Mike Newell's six-month spell in charge.

The shock move comes just weeks after the former Blackburn Rovers and Everton striker, in his first managerial job, guided Pool to only their third promotion in the club's 95-year history.

Victoria Park chairman Ken Hodcroft and Newell, whose contract expired at the end of the season just gone, were both unavailable for comment last night.

The only response from Pool came in a brief statement, which read: "Hartlepool United today announced that first-team manager Mike Newell would not be having his fixed-term contract renewed by the club.

"The club wishes Mike success with his future plans and thanks him for his contribution to the promotion-winning team in season 2002-03."

The Liverpool-born former striker was thought to be heading home to Southport in the North West last night, from where he still commuted to work at Victoria Park.

Assistant manager Kevin Sheedy's position remains unclear, although he is expected to follow Newell out of the door.

After taking over from Chris Turner in November, Newell guided Pool 14-points clear in the Third Division title race.

But a dreadful run of form - highlighted by Pool's failure to win away from home since January 21 - led to Rushden & Diamonds overtaking them at the top of the table.

Sections of the fans turned on Newell after the slip-up and it is thought the manager's failure to secure Pool's first piece of silverware led to his demise.

The drastic decision made by the Pool board comes at a strange time, as he has just sorted out the players he wants to remain at the club for the assault on a higher league.

Just two hours before the shock announcement, defender Paul Arnison had put pen to paper on a new one-year deal at the club.

Arnison was the latest in a long line of players who had committed their futures to Pool in the knowledge that Newell would be in charge next season.

Michael Barron, Chris Westwood, Ritchie Humphreys, Jermaine Easter and Mark Tinkler have all signed two-year deals, while Jon Bass and Mark Robinson have signed on for a further year.

Five other players - with Gordon Watson and Tommy Widdrington the biggest name departures - were all made surplus to requirements by Newell.

But whoever succeeds the ex-Premiership winner, who was recommended for the job by close friend and Newcastle United skipper Alan Shearer, they will still have the core of a squad capable of sustaining a place in the higher league.

Former Sunderland assistant boss Steve Cotterill is already being touted as an ideal replacement.

Cotterill was in charge of Cheltenham when they defeated Pool in the 2001-02 play-offs and he could not speak highly enough of the Victoria Park club.

York City's Terry Dolan is another name to have quickly emerged as a possible candidate.

Pool fans' favourite Gordon Watson is also being tipped to take his first steps in management.

There is sure to be a lot of interest in the job, with Newcastle coach Peter Beardsley, former Barnsley boss Steve Parkin and ex-Darlington bosses David Hodgson and Brian Little expected to be in the frame.

But former Pool hero Joe Allon, who was part of the side that clinched promotion in 1991, believes whoever takes over will inherit a great squad.

"There will be a lot of interest in this job," said Allon.

"In previous years this was a job that could not be given away, now it is a highly-sought-after post.

"It's a soundly-run club off the field, but it is also a club in the Second Division that has a lot of good players."

And Allon admitted he could not believe his ears when he heard the news yesterday, saying: "It's a massive shock because he has come in and done what was required - won promotion. It's very strange timing."

Former Pool mascot and Hartlepool Mayor Stuart Drummond also revealed his surprise at the decision. He said: "I did not see it coming that's for sure. It's a shock because he has just given new contracts to players and let other players go.

"But we need someone in as quick as possible to sort the mess out.

"It's certainly not ideal preparation for the new season."

Lifelong fan Ron Harnish, 61, who also writes a column in the match-day programme, now hopes the board bring in a big name to boost their 2003-04 campaign.

He said: "I think we now need a high-profile name who is capable of attracting big names to the club in the higher league, and they need to do it quickly.

"In a way Mike did the job asked of him and he's been unlucky. On the pitch he got us results.

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