This time last season, I found myself writing about the winds of change at Hartlepool United having just achieved promotion back to the Football League under the most dramatic circumstances. The width of a crossbar was the difference between Pools remaining in the depths of the non-league and climbing back into League Two. There was a period of substantial change as an overhaul in the playing squad took place in such a short space of time. It was a mad scramble for new signings and they needed to get going quickly.  

It’s been a similar scenario for this summer but perhaps to a lesser extent. However, the winds of change are howling once again under the stewardship of Paul Hartley who has been tasked with spearheading the club’s charge up the League Two table. A mighty task that Pools will have to defy the odds to achieve.  

After an extensive month long search for a new manager, Hartley emerged as the outstanding candidate took take over from Graeme Lee who was relieved of his duties. But in a typical Pools manner, there was an air of confusion after strong indications that the club distanced themselves from the Scotsman after had turned down the job. As it turns out, Pools had come back with an offer neither he nor Cove Rangers could refuse. Thus, his name was on the door of the manager’s office at the Suit Direct Stadium. 

On paper, the appointment looks promising. The Pools Chairman Raj Singh and the club hierarchy wanted a man who had developed a winning mentality within his crop of players. Five promotions in a ten year managerial career certainly ticks that box. However for Hartley and the club, it’s a bit of an old age question of whether success north of the border can be translated or matched. There would be no Pools fan writing off his chances of succeeding given his track record but the expectations of the club could be their own downfall given there may well have to be a period of adjustment for all involved. League Two can be no picnic at times and Pools learned that the hard way when they won one of their remaining eleven games last season. 

The Northern Echo: Paul Hartley

However, Singh has set out the club’s stall from an early stage of the summer. The investment into the squad would be the type of money that a play-off candidate would be spending on any given pre-season. A real statement of intent from an owner who is not prepared to let the team rest on their laurels having been up against the likes of Wealdstone and Weymouth just over a year ago.  

After a season of consolidation back in League Two along with some success in cup competitions, the aim is to climb higher in the League Two table and mount a play-off push for next season. Most fans might accept a top half finish next season but there is a hope that Pools can look higher up the table. 

As aforementioned, the odds would have to be defied for that to happen with bookmakers predicting a bottom five finish for next season which would be lower than their 17th place final standing of last season. For me, I think they will be higher than that.  

A number of success stories emerged last season from unlikely candidates which has somewhat contributed to sweeping change. The likes of Luke Molyneux ended up with double figures for goals, Timi Odusina look imperious at times in defence while Neill Byrne quickly settled into life in League Two. All three departed the club alongside new arrival Omar Bogle and club legend Gary Liddle leaving Hartley with some gaping holes to fill in his squad with a bit of tension amongst the fan base. 

Despite what has seemed like an extremely difficult transfer market for a lot of clubs this summer, as many as 12 new faces have come into the club in the summer with Hartlepool now boasting a bit more strength in depth. However, the vast majority remain an unknown entity at League Two level with the exception of midfielder Callum Cooke and defender Rollin Menayese who have more recent spells in the fourth tier. Alex Lacey, Jake Hastie, Kyle Letheran, Josh Umerah and Mikael Ndjoli have also tasted game time in the Football League at some point in their career.

The Northern Echo: Joe Grey and David Ferguson battle Luke O'Nien for the ballJoe Grey and David Ferguson battle Luke O'Nien for the ball

Nevertheless, Hartley’s ability to assemble a squad and strike a chord with the players cannot be understated and it’s largely this reason why Pools fans can take encouragement from the summer of overhaul at the club. Pre-season games can always be a false reflection on performance but based on those performances against Lincoln City, Blackburn and Sunderland, there is reason to believe that the players are taking on the message from Hartley and look like a hard working outfit.

Behind the scenes, there has been a substantial amount of work gone in to make it a club befitting of it’s League Two status. The appointment of head of recruitment Chris Trotter may well have helped them on their way to getting deals over the line during their managerial search and the work gone in to revamping areas of the Suit Direct Stadium has given the face of the club a new look. This is in no way a means of splashing their cash from last season but rather looks like some savvy investment. After the dark days of Gary Coxall, someone being even slightly intelligent with the purse strings is a vast improvement. 

The pre-season campaign has seen a trip to Portugal which the club have not had the luxury of for a number of years. But it’s not been the most conventional pre-season for Hartley who has had to contend with absence of players, injuries and departures. Meaning that if you asked ten Pools fans what their starting line-up would be on the opening day of the season, you would probably get about nine different answers.  

It feels like a period of the unknown with not a lot to cling onto other than what they have on paper and some pre-season games. There is no doubting that there are some players with quality in the squad that can provide the goods but whether it’s enough to carry them into the upper echelons of League Two is another question. One thing is for certain is that it won’t be dull watching them this season.