Hartlepool United squad’s end-of-term report

Jack Baldwin in action against Crawley Town. Picture by FRANK REID
Jack Baldwin in action against Crawley Town. Picture by FRANK REID

AFTER a club-record six-season stay in League One, Hartlepool United will next year be playing their football in the bottom tier. Here, chief sports writer, Craig Hope, returns his end-of-term report on the players who were unable to prevent the club’s relegation ...

Scott Flinders – 9/10

The goalkeeper populated a one-man shortlist when it came to player-of-the-season nominations.

The 26-year-old is surely set for bigger things but would no doubt depart with the blessing of all at Victoria Park.

Some of his saves this year have defied physics and his improvement over the past three seasons has now seen him outgrow League One.

Neil Austin – 5.5/10

His mark is indicative of a campaign which has failed to scale the heights of previous years yet was far-from disastrous.

He remains consistent without ever really emerging as star man, something he did achieve, however, with regularity during his first year at the club.

Jordan Richards – 6/10

DEPUTISED for Austin at right-back over Christmas and did not let anyone down, even surprising many with his assured nature for one so young.

He could well have a bigger part to play next season.

Sam Collins – 6/10

A season of two halves – 4/10 until Christmas and 8/10 thereafter.

That he was dropped and lost the armband during those early months serves to highlight his troubles.

However, the veteran was undoubtedly the most consistent outfield performer between January and April.

Minus the responsibility of the captaincy, Collins cruised through the majority of matches in an unassuming manner and barely put a foot wrong.

Peter Hartley – 6/10

The player himself admits his efforts this time around have fallen way short of last season.

Like Collins, the first half of the campaign was, at times, calamitous.

He recovered after Christmas, taking over the captaincy, but ultimately failed to reproduce the powerful, dependable form which saw him crowned player of the season 12 months ago.

Has it within himself to bounce back next season though.

Evan Horwood – 6/10

The left-back again emerged as top assists maker and was often Pools’ chief threat going forward.

Questions remain about consistency in defence but he still comes in for some unfair criticism in that department, for he is very rarely out-ran by any opposition winger.

Darren Holden – 5.5/10

LIKE fellow academy graduate Richards, Holden found himself thrust on to the senior stage at various junctures of the season and impressed in parts..

The left-back still needs to work on his end-product, however, and more composure is needed in the final third.

Ritchie Humphreys – 6.5/10

The 35-year-old very rarely got a look-in during the early part of the season under Neale Cooper but, with John Hughes in charge, he barely missed a game.

His performance deserved that inclusion, too.

His ability to keep possession was in stark contrast to many team-mates and he still covered the yards in the middle of the park.

The highlight of his season was undoubtedly scoring his only goal during the 3-2 win at boyhood club Sheffield United.

Simon Walton – 5.5/10

Having arrived with a big reputation and some strong words in the summer, it’s fair to say Walton failed to “walk the walk” during the first few months of the season.

Dropped and derided by supporters, his future at the club was bleak.

However, credit where it is due, Walton managed to win back those fans, who had booed his every move, thanks to a series of committed performances.

Tailed off again towards the end of the year but should start next season in the heart of midfield.

Jack Baldwin – 8/10

THE 19-year-old was the only player to come close to Flinders when it came to annual honours.

Like the goalkeeper, he is almost certainly destined for greater things and Pools fans will be hoping to retain his talents for at least another 12 months.

His composure belies his age and his bravery belies his size.

Off the pitch, the southerner is an impressive young man with an attitude which will take him far.

Paul Murray – 6/10

THE stalwart midfielder had been Pools’ star player during that early-season turmoil but found himself out of the side under John Hughes.

His January departure still baffles given that no new faces arrived.

Yes, Murray’s legs were on the wane, but his brain was as sharp as ever and he could have offered something during the final fight for survival.

Nathan Luscombe – 4/10

HIS mark is as much a reflection of his failure to do enough to win more starts, for talent certainly resides in his burly frame.

When he did get his chance he was unable to impose himself on the game and looked a yard short of the pace at first-team level.

It is a shame because he is one of the few on the books with the ability to unpick an opposition backline.

Antony Sweeney – 4.5/10

A hugely frustrating year for the midfielder with form and fitness alluding him for the most part.

He has missed a quarter of matches through injury and has found the net just twice.

He accepts as much himself but, given his commitment to the club in recent years, deserves the chance to lead an assault on League Two next season.

Jonathan Franks – 6/10

He’s barely missed a minute which is testament to his endurance but his best form has been evident on too few occasions.

Just four goals is a disappointing return from a player deployed in attacking territory and he can frustrate and delight in equal measure.

A first full season as a regular starter could well aid his development but next year, at a lower level, more is expected in terms of end-product.

James Poole – 5/10

Save for his part in February’s unbeaten run, Poole’s contribution fell short of pre-season expectation.

Undoubtedly talented – he was outstanding during that late-winter period – he, like Franks, has been plagued by inconsistency.

Just four goals, for a striker, underlines the team’s shortcomings.

Andy Monkhouse – 5.5/10

Both Neale Cooper and John Hughes saw fit to relegate the 32-year-old to the bench.

As ever, though, he responded with goals when recalled, it’s just a shame he must first be dropped to spark such a reaction.

Finished the season with perhaps a timely reminder as to his talent with four goals in the final four matches to take him to the top of the scoring charts.

Steve Howard – 3/10

HIS signing last summer was billed as “marquee” by the club and, while no-one dissented at the time, his arrival in hindsight was a critical misjudgement.

Pools needed a goalscorer and, had they signed one, they would probably have avoided the drop.

While the service to Howard was poor, he was too immobile and rarely threatened the opposition goal.

Charlie Wyke – 5.5/10

THE Middlesbrough loanee did well, he just wasn’t what Pools needed.

For a 19-year-old cutting his teeth at senior level can never be expected to shoulder the goalscoring burden of an under-performing team.

His confidence was shot come the end of his stay.

Luke James – 6/10

IT will remain the season’s biggest “what if?”. What if James had been included in the starting XI before April?

His performances during the final month were refreshing and inspiring and it was no surprise to see the team break their 12-hour goal-drought following his belated inclusion.

A big season hopefully awaits.

Ryan Noble – 3.5/10

A MAJOR disappointment given the promise he had shown whilst on loan towards the back end of last season.

The striker’s body language was at times concerning and just one goal from 12 outings was an indictment of the team’s early-season woe.

Managers

Neale Cooper – 2/10

THE Scot was a very likeable chap from a journalistic perspective but his players, on the evidence of their efforts on the pitch, did not share that love.

It became apparent very quickly that his second tenure was headed for disaster, repeated post-match blasts towards his dressing-room failing to have any effect.

Cooper later admitted the club’s failure to sign a goalscorer had cost him his job, and it is hard to disagree with that assessment.

John Hughes – 6/10

HIS points-per-game ratio over 46 games would have been enough to keep Pools in the division and there was definite improvement under his care.

Still, though, mistakes were made and the failure to unearth something to resolve a nine-match run without a goal ultimately killed all hope of survival.

If allowed to reshape the squad over the summer then judgement will be reserved until next season.

Goal of the season –

JAMES Poole’s volley during the 2-1 home win over Notts County in February was the pick of the bunch.

It was a goal worthy of a far-grander stage, the forward cushioning a Jon Franks’ cross with his first touch, looping the ball over Dean Leacock, and volleying home with his second.

Highlight of the season –

THE 3-2 win at Sheffield United in December was an all-too-rare occurrence.

It was a victory, for starters, but it was also a match high on entertainment and drama played out on a bog of a pitch which merely added to the sense of battle.

Lowlight of the season –

IT was just three days earlier on Boxing Day that Pools had surrendered to a 3-0 defeat at Carlisle United, prompting assertion that they would be relegted.

The performance was sadly lacking in fight and imagination and, over the course of the season, there were too many like it.