Michael Woods discusses Hartlepool United’s back to basics approach, Craig Harrison’s winning formula and National League ‘nitty gritty’

Michael Woods: Outstanding. Picture by FRANK REID
Michael Woods: Outstanding. Picture by FRANK REID

Back to basics.

It’s a straight forward formula that seems to be working wonders for Hartlepool United.

In a game where decisions, systems and tactics are scrutinised with the finest-toothed combs by pundits and fans alike, it’s a review of the simpler parts of the game that Michael Woods credits for Pools National League turnaround.

“The last few weeks have been positive,” said Woods ahead of his side’s trip to Leyton Orient tomorrow (12.30pm kick-off).

“It’s just been about going back to basics, not just at the back but the whole 11, winning the second balls and just making sure we’re the hardest working team going.

“I think we’ve got the quality to create chances, but early on we just weren’t doing the basics well enough as a team.

“The gaffer addressed that and we had one solid week of just going back to drawing board of the a’s and b’s of simple stuff and I think that’s what this league takes, for sure.

“After the Fylde game, the gaffer came in and said ‘we’re going to go back to the drawing board and just strip it right down’. Forget the ball, get the off-the-ball stuff right first and that gives us a base to go from. It’s one goal conceded in the last four which has showed that.”

Having gone ‘back to school’ at the club’s Durham University training base, Woods says Pools are much better prepared mentally and physically for the rigours of fifth-tier football, which maybe came as a shock to the system for the club, operating at that level for the first time in their history.

Pools were not the only side to have struggled with the division, pre-season favourites Tranmere Rovers as well as Saturday’s opponents Orient have also had their difficulties.

A former Pools player described the division as a Football League graveyard. One look at the league table proves that point.

“That’s football and particularly this league as well, I mean you look at the fixture list for the first two months, it seems to be a game every three days,” said Woods of some of the prestigious sides at this level’s problems in adapting.

“The last four games have been a base, but it will count for nothing if we don’t follow it on. I think people are looking at the league table scratching their heads, but I think that’s how it’s going to be.

“There’s some big physical sides and I think everyone’s going to be beat everyone. I think obviously we’ll have the bunch of seven/eight teams at the top competing, but that’s the way it goes.

“The last four games have given us a base and I think we’ve learnt now what it takes to win games at this level.

“You look at Leyton Orient’s team on paper. I think they’ve got a lot of league experience between them as well and they have struggled. Similar to Tranmere, they’re the same.

“I think it just takes something a little bit different. But hopefully, as I say, these last four games will prove that we are coming to terms with it.”

It would be no understatement to say Pools fans were getting a bit jittery as they stared the fifth-tier relegation zone straight between the eyes.

But while all around lost their heads, manager Craig Harrison was the epitome of calm.

“He’s backed us all season long already,” said Woods of his boss.

“I think it comes from the players as well, obviously managers and staff at any club take the majority of the stick but sometimes the players have to look at themselves and take responsibility a bit as well.

“He’s brought us here, he’s given us the platform of what we need to do and, when you cross the white line, it’s down the 11 that are on the pitch.

“But, as I’ve said, I think the last month or so we’ve done that we just need to carry it on.

“It was so important that we did go back to basics and the nitty gritty stuff really. Then the football can come through.

“The Maidstone game was a prime example; first-half, it was bit of a scrappy affair but we won the battle and then (in the) second half, they allowed us to play our football and I think we had 70% possession second-half, so I think that shows but it’s just down to hard work.

“The gaffer, Batesy (Matthew Bates), Jenks (Paul Jenkins) are all drilling it into us now and I think it’s now hitting home with the lads.

“We’re full of confidence, we’ve got 10 points out of the last 12 and we’ll be going into every game now looking to get three points, home or away.”