FOR most teams in the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup, victory meant everything. For Hartlepool United it was nothing to get excited about, just another game to tick off in a long meandering period.

If Pools had lost to Brackley, and they could quite easily have, their season wouldn’t have been overly affected. Defeat would have merely become another stain in the history books.

Pools have been in the first round proper for 96 years now; the caveat being this is only the third season they have not automatically been put in at that stage.

With National League football comes the FA Trophy and FA Cup qualification. What was a God-given right as a Football League team now comes with a test. Brackley gave Pools a right old test.

Now, for the Pools’ hierarchy comes a bigger challenge: how to pick the right man to make sure they don’t have to go through regional qualifying too many more times.

Antony Sweeney, assisted by Ian McGuckin, has led Pools to back to back wins and successive clean sheets since taking over.

Job done. But Pools have been fortunate in beating both Aldershot and Brackley, results could quite easily have gone the other way.

Sweeney deserves praise for keeping Pools ticking over. Often, and Sweeney the player was witness to it enough at Pools over the years, a caretaker boss comes in with a dressing room in pieces, morale low and players who were desperate for a change.

That’s not been the case at Pools. Everyone was surprised at Craig Hignett’s departure. It wasn’t, however, something done in the spur of the moment after Pools lost at Stockport. Arriving at the decision was something the chairman had done in recent weeks.

Do they go for someone with National League nous and experience of success in the division? Do they become a proper National League side, one which is big and strong to match muscle for muscle?

Do they keep their eye on the division above and plan to get there by appointing someone from outside the National League?

The problem is, and it’s a real delicate balancing act, that the longer you are in this division the more of a National League club you become. But then again you have to become a proper National League club to get out of the National League.

David Hodgson, then Darlington manager, used to refer to League Two as “this God-damn division” as he tried to get his side out of it.

Pools are stuck in this monstrous league. The pre-season hope and anticipation of success has, for the third season in a row, dissolved by the time the leaves fall off the autumn trees.

The club’s hierarchy are this week in the process of conducting interviews for the job. Dave Challinor, sacked last weekend by Flyde, is among the runners. He knows the division and got his side into the play-offs and FA Trophy final last season.

Paul Cox, who Pools tried to entice from Barrow after relegation, is another keen on the position. His last job ended with the sack at Guiseley in February 2018.

Has Sweeney done enough to merit consideration? No-one can argue with the job he’s done, but as as sure as day follows night, managing Hartlepool United only ends in one-thing: the sack.

Hignett had a job for the long-term as director of football. As soon as he put his head above the parapet he was open to being axed.

Sweeney may well be manager of the club one day, but surely its too soon for him now?

It was pleasing to see him and Ian McGuckin barking instructions at their players from the dug out on Saturday. The Victoria Park crowd prefer a Neale Cooper type-animated figure on the touchline than a Mike Newell hands in pockets observer.

Sweeney admitted: “I suppose it’s job done getting through .I wasn’t too happy with the performance and Brackley were probably the better team, but it’s about getting a way to win games and in the two games I’ve had in charge I’ve been able to do it.

“They were exactly what we thought, a good side, kick it long, a threat. I was more surprised how we played first-half, never got going with a lack of intensity and we couldn’t excite the crowd and it became a bit flat.

“We had a few choice words at half time and sometimes that can give you a kick on. It wasn’t me giving a rocket, more being honest. Players have their opinions too and there’s no problem with that – we all want the same things and people show desire and commitment in different ways. It shows people care.’’

Pools were, as Sweeney accepted, too flat. Any potential manager watching this performance would be able to spot their problems in an instant.

Their game was summed up in the second half when a throw-in from Peter Kioso to Nicky Featherstone brought a slack pass. Pools gave it away, then won it back, but Michael Raynes’ straight-forward pass into midfield was left by everyone to put the visitors on the attack.

But shortly afterwards, Pools scored. Ryan Donaldson picked up possession, moved ahead and his low shot found a way past the keeper.

But shots on target were at a premium, Nicke Kabamba was close to a second but clipped his finish into the advancing keeper.

At the other end, it was a second clean sheet in a row for Ben Killip and he was an assured presence throughout. Conditions didn’t make it easy for a goalkeeper, but his game was solid and he made vital saves when called upon.