Analysis: Good start vital for Hartlepool United who face stiff competition in League Two

Michael Woods in action for Hartlepool United against Chesterfield. Picture by FRANK REID
Michael Woods in action for Hartlepool United against Chesterfield. Picture by FRANK REID

After a summer of big changes at Hartlepool United, the League Two season finally gets underway this weekend.

Pools host Morecambe at Victoria Park on Saturday (KO 3pm) and boss Ronnie Moore will be desperate to see his new-look side get off to a flying start in front of their home support.

Carl Magnay in action for Hartlepool United

Carl Magnay in action for Hartlepool United

Pools reporter Richard Mennear looks ahead to the new campaign and picks out the key teams - and players - to watch.

Good start is key:

Twelve months ago Pools started the season with an ageing, unbalanced squad lacking pace and goals. It was a recipe for disaster and then manager Colin Cooper paid the price, resigning in October after watching his side drop to the foot of League Two.

Paul Murray was only in charge for a short spell before club bosses decided they had made a mistake and instead looked to Ronnie Moore to save the club. An inspired decision and with a game to go, experienced Moore managed to steer Pools to safety.

Billy Paynter in action for Hartlepool

Billy Paynter in action for Hartlepool

A massive summer of change has seen Moore stamp his own mark on the squad, with nine players - many of them first team players - leaving, to be replaced by 10 new faces. The oldest player is 31-year-old club captain Billy Paynter, with Moore keen to add more experienced players of a good age to his squad. He has succeeded on the transfer front and it is vital Pools now start the season well.

The opening game at home to Morecambe represents a good opportunity for a win in front of their own fans, including more than 3,000 season ticket holders.

Pools do have a challenging opening month though, with games against rivals York City and Carlisle United in the opening four weeks, plus a tricky away game at Stevenage. But if Pools can build on the momentum gained off the pitch then they have every chance of a successful season on it.

Three key Hartlepool players:

Rakish Bingham:

The 21-year-old re-joined Pools in the summer after a loan spell last term. Moore’s first summer signing and a great bit of business. Has an eye for goal, having scored six in pre-season, and pace to burn. Has linked up well with Paynter up front and a lot is expected of the “best finisher at the club” - according to Moore.

Michael Woods:

The 25-year-old is back from a gruesome injury that kept him out for six months. But after a quicker than anticipated recovery from his dislocated ankle and fractured fibula, Woods has impressed in pre-season. Dictating play from central midfield, his quick feet and tough-tackling will be a major asset to Pools.

Scott Harrison:

The former Sunderland defender has endured a rocky pre-season programme. He looked rusty and uncomfortable in the games against Scunthorpe United and Gateshead, with Moore unhappy with his side’s defending in the 3-5-2 formation.

But he will be a key player for Pools this term, with his powerful heading and no-nonsense defending again going to be key.

Three teams to watch out for:

Portsmouth:

League Two big boys Pompey hope new manager Paul Cook will be the one to lead the former Premier League side out of the fourth tier of English football. With a huge fanbase behind them, ex-Chesterfield boss Cook also has a strong squad at his disposal including new signing Gary Roberts.

Leyton Orient:

Led by Ian Hendon, the Os squad is blessed with quality throughout and they will be looking to bounce straight back from their relegation from League One. Looking to further strengthen the squad with the capture of Peterborough’s Jack Payne.

Notts County:

Another relegated side looking to bounce straight back. County haven’t messed about in the transfer market either, bringing in 17 new players with former Ipswich Town defender Elliott Hewitt the latest to sign.

Three players who will set the league on fire:

Jon Stead, Notts County. The 32-year-old signed a two-year deal after being released by Championship side Huddersfield and his signature was quite a coup. The experienced striker has been in good pre-season form and will strike fear into defences this campaign.

Dean Cox, Leyton Orient: Talented winger has stayed despite relegation, committing his future to the club. Looking to recapture the form that saw him score 17 times and provide 15 assists during a superb 2013-14 campaign, which almost saw the club promoted to the Championship.

Craig Mackail-Smith, Luton Town: The former Brighton striker has teamed up with former manager John Still at Luton, the 31-year-old penning a two-year deal. If he can recapture his form at previous clubs Dagenham & Redbridge and Peterborough United, then Luton may have pulled off one of the signings of the summer.

Odds:

Portsmouth (100/30) are the bookies favourites to win League Two, according to league sponsors Sky Bet. With Luton (13/2), Oxford United (8/1) and Leyton Orient (12/1) also among the early favourites. Pools, meanwhile, are way down the betting at 40/1, which will suit Moore & Co.

Pools fare better in the promotion odds though at 9/1. Accrington Stanley, Newport and Dagenham are the favourites for the drop, with Pools priced at 11/2 ahead of the new campaign.