A look back over the games and moments that defined Hartlepool United’s 2016

Nathan Thomas celebrates his super strike at Grimsby Town. Picture: Andrew Roe/AHPIX LTD

Nathan Thomas celebrates his super strike at Grimsby Town. Picture: Andrew Roe/AHPIX LTD

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Talk of a relegation threatened side, managerial changes and under par players was rife at Hartlepool United as 2015 turned to 2016.

Sadly, as we head for a supposed new dawn in 2017, the same undertones remain. Some things never change at the Northern Gas & Power Stadium.

Some things never change at the Northern Gas & Power Stadium

Pools writer Liam Kennedy

This time, though, financial issues, something rarely witnessed in the last two decades at the Vic, are at the fore. 2017 could well be the year of the balance sheet, with Gary Coxall at the forefront.

Here we look back over the games and moments that defined the year passed.

January

Three losses, a draw and a solitary win was the introduction to the year Pools managed to serve up, starting with a narrow, televised FA Cup loss at Derby County.

This proved a particular money-spinner for chairman Coxall and owners JPNG, who netted much of the gate receipts for the clash, with County forfeiting their right to the cash in order to help Pools.

Flush Pools didn’t quite have the window they wanted, though. Ronnie Moore was handed Josh Laurent on a plate, despite never having watched him, and Nathan Thomas came in. A signing which proved one of the best the club have made in recent years.

February

Without a win in nine Stevenage came to the Vic and recorded a 2-1 win just before Valentines Day, but the love was gone between Pools and manager Ronnie Moore. Divorce was imminent.

Moore was sacked and replaced by Craig Hignett, who had previously been assistant at the club.

Hignett, appointed on February 12, managed to conjure up a win in his first week in charge but things got a hell of a lot worse before they got better, as the club moved from flirting with relegation to just about going on a date with it. At the end of the month just two points separated Pools and second bottom York City.

March

A heavy loss against Bristol City heaped the pressure on Hignett, in his first managerial appointment.

But things just seemed to click at The Hive, a week later.

Two Lewis Hawkins strikes and one from Thomas ensured a memorable win down south. And from there Pools went on an unbeaten run which stretched into April - beating Dagenham, Wimbledon, Leyton Orient and Mansfield along the way. The run also included draws with Crawley and Newport.

April

Pools resurgence, which basically secured their League Two status, stretching 16 points between them and the bottom two, came to abrupt end at Carlisle on Tuesday, April 5.

A Thomas double at Morecambe helped Pools to a romping 5-2 victory on the road, while the last home win for seven months was recorded at the Vic against Jackie McNamara’s soon to be relegated Minstermen later in the calendar month. Pools lost the other three games in April, as their season stuttered to a halt.

May/June/July

The collapse at Plymouth, more memorable for the fact the travelling army of Poolies dressed up as Star Wars Stormtroopers, was a sign of things to come.

A busy summer, Hignett’s first as a manager, ensued.

No fewer than 13 players came through the door.

In total, including some slightly later business, 11 left, highlighting a total squad overhaul for Pools.

Hignett added the likes of Conference scoring sensation Padraig Amond from Grimsby and recently released Northern Ireland Under-21 skipper Liam Donnelly from Championship Fulham.

August

Taking the EFL Cup - seen as a major nuisance by Hignett, as well as many a manager around the Football League - out of the equation and Pools got off to a more than decent start to the season.

Six points and just one loss from the opening five games of the campaign gave the side a decent base after a summer of promises of a play-off charge.

As we all know, that looks a million miles from materialising.

The first signs of ill-discipline were evident this early - Toto Nsiala, signed from Grimsby in the summer - was dismissed twice, once correctly, the other in a case of mistaken identity in the meaningless rebranded Football League Trophy.

September

Four minutes into football in September, things looked to be going swimmingly.

Thomas’ strike down at Stevenage put Pools one goal to the good. But 50 minutes minutes of madness ensued, in which Hignett’s men went from a goal in front, to six down. This, like Plymouth, was a precursor of what was to come, as well as being an indicator of the soft underbelly Pools have in the heat of battle.

Pools went even further South to reveal their mercurial side in beating high-flying Yeovil 2-1 soon after. They then rounded the month off with three draws to Mansfield and top three sides Luton and Plymouth. Suddenly the critics went quiet and things were starting to look at lot more rosy.

October

Probably Pools most complete performance of the season came down at Blundell Park. Former striker Amond came back to haunt Grimsby, by netting a first-half double as Pools shocked the division on their travels.

The moment of the match, and probably Pools season so far was reserved for Thomas, though. His exquisite chip from the edge of the area was harshly robbed of goal of the month. The skill, the control and audacity to do such a thing underlined just how good Thomas could well become.

Another creditable draw, among yet more EFL nonsense, against Crawley was then inexplicably followed by a home loss to Leyton Orient, then an absolute collapse from 2-0 up and cruising to a 3-2 defeat at Barnet.

Losing three points was bad enough in New Barnet, but losing Thomas - stretchered off with a groin problem which later required surgery - was something Pools and Hignett could not afford.

November

The FA Cup. A break from the daily grind of life in the fourth tier.

And that’s just how Pools treated it. After struggling to 0-0 at half-time at the Vic against Stamford, which was justifiably greeted with boos from the terraces, Pools went up a gear in the second period, eventually seeing off the non-league minnows 3-0, to record their first home win since April. Phew!

Wait for a bus and two, I mean three, come along at once. Having been starved for seven months, home wins over Accrington and Cheltenham showed the shoots of recovery were present. A last minute loss at second placed Doncaster and a sobering lesson at Wycombe, kept feet on the ground, though.

December

If you thought previous months had been indifferent, Pools hit new depths as the year came to a close.

Without Thomas, devoid of pace and now goals, Hignett’s men began the month with a 4-0 loss at Port Vale in the FA Cup.

While the excuse could be offered that Pools were outclassed by a side from a division higher, that gave no explanation for the 90 minutes produced by the players. Put simply, Pools would have struggled to beat any team from any level on the day, they were that bad.

Talk of a reaction ensued. And we all expected it six days later when Cambridge United came to town.

Surely it couldn’t get any worse than Vale Park? Well, many of us spoke too soon.

Things went downhill pretty quickly as Pools contrived to produce a second half capitulation, going from 0-0 to 4-0 in just 19 minutes.

The reaction did come surprisingly at Fratton Park, though, as Pools fought tooth and nail to record a valuable 0-0 draw.

It’ll be interesting to see if the ghosts of games past rear their ugly head into 2017, it will be difficult to see how Pools will break the cycle of managerial changes.