Craig Harrison admits all roads lead to August 5 - with the Hartlepool boss plotting a swift Football League return

Pools boss Craig Harrison. Picture by Frank Reid.
Pools boss Craig Harrison. Picture by Frank Reid.
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Time is of the essence for Hartlepool United boss Craig Harrison ahead of the National League campaign.

Tonight, the manager takes his Pools side to Billingham Town for their first warm-up game of the summer (7.45pm kick-off).

And having been handed the club’s fixture list just yesterday, Harrison admits the hard work starts now for Hartlepool, who are looking to bounce back to the Football League at the first time of asking.

Ahead of this evening, former TNS boss Harrison said: “The excitement goes up and I think it can focus you a little more too once the fixtures are there in black and white.

“You look at it and we’re only four weeks on Saturday away from getting underway, so we have a little bit of building time still, but it will soon come around.

“Now the fixtures are out, it gives us the opportunity to sit down as a staff and plan in a bit more depth how we’re going to structure the schedule and plot how we can get this club back in the EFL as quickly as possible.

“All things are looking positive at the club, so we’re all really looking forward to our first game at Billingham, and then making sure we get all the preparations right and are in good shape for that opening game on Saturday, August 5.”

Meanwhile, the manager has had his say on yesterday’s fixture release.

“I am pleased to start with a home game,” said Harrison, whose men kick off against Dover Athletic.

“I think it’s important you set your stall out and being at home first will hopefully help us with that.

“I think the lads who have been here will know what kind of atmosphere can be generated at The Vic and the new lads will be enthusiastic to taste that early on so it’s great we start at home and I’m sure there will be a big crowd, which will be key.

“Fortunately, I have seen Dover play live twice in the last 18 months when they have been playing local to me in Chester, so I already know a little bit about them.

“Obviously we’ll do our full homework, we’d be stupid not to, but one thing I do know is that it will be a physical test.

“They’re strong and physically fit and can be quite direct so we will have to deal with that.

“We’re at home though and, as I have told the lads, throughout this season – especially at The Vic – it won’t be all about us but I think 75 to 80% will be about how we do on the day.

“You can get caught up in analysing the fixtures and thinking what could have been better or worse for you, but I think the opening weeks overall have been on the kinder side so we’re reasonably happy with the situation.

“We have to be ready, of course, because the first two months will be very important months.”

The festive period has also been particularly kind to Pools.

Two games against local rivals Gateshead – on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day – are preceded by a home game against Maidenhead, with a trip to Chester sandwiched in between.

Harrison revealed that the club requested the Heed clashes, and are delighted that the powers that be saw fit to grant their wish.

“It’s great that it’s come to fruition,” he said.

“We will definitely be looking forward to those games – they should be great occasions.

“They are local derby games for us so they should be very exciting and there will definitely be a great atmosphere, particularly when we play them at home on New Year’s Day.

“The lads are all professional obviously, but ideally you want to be reasonably close to home over Christmas so that they can spend a little time with their families – you have to have that balance to make sure you have a happy squad.

“Obviously we’re at Chester for our final game of 2017, which is a pretty long trip, but, by and large, we have to be pretty happy with the festive schedule.”