HARTLEPOOL UNITED tomorrow get the chance to be where they want to be – at a Football League level.

The second round of the FA Cup pitches Pools against Exeter City. They were regular opposition before Pools were relegated to the National League.

And Pools had a positive record at St James’ Park, a happy hunting ground over the years.

They have only lost there twice in 11 visits, winning seven times and reached the play-offs in League Two on the final day of the season with a 2002 2-0 victory.

Pools go there confident. Tuesday’s scintillating 5-1 win at Chesterfield was their biggest away win since a victory by the same scoreline at Wrexham in December 2004.

“It’s a good game to play in, a good chance for us. The competition brings exposure for smaller clubs and the chance to play against a Football League club,’’ said Pools’ boss Dave Challinor. “The second round brings the potential for the third round which can be financially defining for some clubs.

“That’s where it is from a playing and management side, this is a chance to play against Football League players, a Football League team and we all aspire to be that.

“It’s disappointing it’s such a long way, but many will travel, and we will do all we can for a positive result for them and get into Monday’s draw.

“The trips don’t get much longer for where we are.’’

The Grecians sit fourth in League Two, just three points off top spot. Challinor is well aware of the threat.

He said: “They are a quality side, with characteristics of teams who come up against – working hard and with players who have played at this level. Ryan Bowman, for example, has played in this part of the world and moved on.

“Shape-wise and the two wing backs are very attacking, expansive in how they play. We will cause them problems as well and they will look at what we have done later and be aware.

“It will be tough, but one we look forward to. We want to go and show what we can do.

“Exeter are a strong side, but teams have gone up from this division and the majority more than hold their own and then momentum and money pushes them up into League One and competition at the top of League Two.

“Most National League teams would hold their own, but then Exeter have been up there competing at the top end of the table.

“Maybe they’ve been unfortunate not to be promoted and get up into League One. They have threats, wide especially, from where a lot of their opportunities come. We have to be good defensively, but this is a bit of a free hit for us and one challenge we look forward to.’’

The Pools boss has been happy with the reaction and response of his players to the new methods and ways introduced at Victoria Park. Players who weren’t performing have sparked into life, with Luke James sparking up front.

And Challinor, assisted by right-hand man Joe Parkinson, admitted: “We are still in an assessment phase in where are at and with positive results, we can still add players to give us something different. We are in a position, Boreham Wood at home aside, we’ve not had to chase games.

“Being analytical, we have a lot of players who are quite similar. We need that little bit of spark, star quality that we don’t have to be game changers for us and that’s what we look to bring in.

“We don’t need to bring three or four in to start games straight away because we are in a good place, but I’m thinking of different option sand more options, but it’s about the right players and not just for the sake of it.

“If we can have a body or two in for the next league game it will make the squad more rounded.

“You look from outside and know pretty much all the players, but you see different things when you see the, day to day and the surprises have been positive without being unexpected.

“You go in a bit pessimistic, but it’s been good and loads to work with and we can get so much better. Workrate and the like, the lads have bought into what we want but training will be high intensity and the signs are there that things are slowly moving forward with a different type of performance, which is massively rewarding for us.’’