Hartlepool midfielder targets immediate promotion

Michael Woods
Michael Woods

Pride has been badly hurt, says Pools midfielder Michael Woods.

Settling into life outside the Football League was always going to be a bitter pill to swallow for Hartlepool United.

While pain has turned to hope off the field, sparked by the feel-good Harralution, now in full swing at the Vic, the wounds on it still run deep.

And Woods admits that he carries with him a sense of responsibility, just 58 days after the club dropped out of the League Two for the first time in 96 years.

But he knows that Hartlepool must move on from the devastation that May 6 brought.

Striker Padraig Amond, in the aftermath of the final day, described the National League as a big club graveyard.

And Woods knows that Pools must make sure rise from the ashes of relegation, rather than take this as the beginning of the end.

“It’s different and it hurts your pride,” he said of facing up to the realisation of playing football in England’s fifth tier.

“It was really surprising some of the things which went on [last season]. But you can look for excuses. At the end of the day we were the 11 players going on the field and it was our responsibility to win matches.

“No disrespect to some other teams, but Hartlepool United is a massive club for the National League.

“But there are still some big teams in the Conference, like Tranmere.

“There have been a lot of big clubs to have gone out of the League, look at Luton - it took them a while to get back.

“But as a professional footballer you want to play at as high a level as possible and to do that we have to be promoted this year for sure.”

Change has been the order of the day at the Vic, no longer the wordy and ill-fitting Northern Gas & Power Stadium.

Unpopular, uncouth Dave Jones - seen by many as the accelerator to Pools’ demise, with Gary Coxall the catalyst - is ancient history, so too are his equally divisive coaching staff.

Coxall has been kicked to the high grass by a fresh broom in the shape of Pam Duxbury.

In the dugout there is also a much more innovative, forward-thinking boss with roots firmly in the North East. A manager who knows the area, knows what it takes to succeed and knows just how much Hartlepool means to the people of the town. This is something that ‘confident in his skin’ outsider Jones, with his repetitive, tiresome recollections of his long-gone better days at Cardiff, could not begin to understand.

Harrison is inclusive and positive, a stark contrast to the Scouser who preceded him as the last permanent full-time manager of Pools.

And with that new found confidence sweeping into the club, Woods is sure Hartlepool can bounce back to where they belong.

And do so at the first time of asking.

“It has to be,” when asked whether Pools can win the National League.

“The home form is going to be vital. I think teams will come to the Vic and it will be a bit of a shock to them.

“We could be going to some places where there are only 300/400 there, which is different and the lads are going to have to adapt to that.

“We are a massive club and we should be up there challenging for sure.”

It’s not only off the park where change has been prevalent.

Six new faces have been brought in by Harrison to freshen up a squad damaged by the drop.

High profile players like Billy Paynter have been allowed to depart, so too popular club stalwart Ian ‘Buster’ Gallagher, a part of the furniture at the Vic.

“There have been some tough decisions made,” said Woods, who has been on the Pools rollercoaster for the last three years.

“And people will ask about certain ones and rightly so.

“The club have made it with the best interests at heart and hopefully we’ll see a change of fortunes this year.

“[Relegation] is in the past now, I don’t see any point in looking back, there can be no hangover.

“If there is then that will only hinder us.”

A quick start to life outside the Football League, especially at home, is the only way to ensure Pools are heading back where they belong come May.

Woods continued: “We have to look at the positives.

“If we make a quick start and put a run together, the fans will come out and back us.”

Woods knows though that in order for the fans to come out, the players need to give something back - a factor which has been severely lacking at the Vic in recent years.

“It’s all right asking them to back us, we have to give them something to cheer about and that’s down to us,” said the former Chelsea and Leeds United midfield man.

“Against Doncaster there was 7,000 in the crowd but it felt like you were at a Premier League ground. The atmosphere was incredible.

“That day was tough, at times we felt we were safe.

“It was sad because you could see the back we are capable of here.

“Those crowds and that atmosphere is what we’ve got to look forward to this year.”