Richard Mennear’s season review: Big summer ahead for Hartlepool United following an unforgettable campaign

Hartlepool United manager Ronnie Moore celebrating with his staff at the end of the game against Exeter City which saw Pools retain their Football League status. Picture by FRANK REID
Hartlepool United manager Ronnie Moore celebrating with his staff at the end of the game against Exeter City which saw Pools retain their Football League status. Picture by FRANK REID

THE 2014-15 campaign will go down in Hartlepool United folklore.

At one stage, it looked very much like it was going to be for all the wrong reasons.

Jordan Hugill in action against Carlisle United.

Jordan Hugill in action against Carlisle United.

Three managers in a season, a failed takeover bid and more importantly a five-month long stint as the worst league team in England, a run which almost ended a proud 94-year association with the Football League.

Yet against all the odds, somehow, plucky Pools pulled themselves from the depths of despair to end the season on an almighty high.

As news filtered through just after 5pm on Saturday, April 25, that Cheltenham Town had been beaten, the relief among supporters, players and staff at The Vic was a sight to behold.

From being 10 points adrift at the start of March, the Great Escape had been achieved.

Now a huge summer of rebuilding awaits and previous mistakes cannot be repeated if Pools are to avoid another season like the one just gone.

Pools writer, Richard Mennear

Cue what felt like a promotion party as Ronnie Moore and his squad celebrated a remarkable turnaround in fortune to retain their status as a Sky Bet League Two side.

It brought to an end a turbulent, traumatic, barmy but ultimately unforgettable 10 months at the Clarence Road club as SportMail takes a look back over the season.

Luke James goes on strike ahead of a big money transfer:

Hartlepool United had a very different feel about it last summer, under the guidance of former boss Colin Cooper.

Ronnie Moore celebrating in front of the Hartlepool United fans at the end of the game against Carlisle United.

Ronnie Moore celebrating in front of the Hartlepool United fans at the end of the game against Carlisle United.

Experienced players, including Simon Walton and Andy Monkhouse, were released without being properly replaced, to leave an unbalanced squad lacking pace and more importantly goals.

As pre-season got underway, it became apparent Peterborough United were tracking top scorer Luke James, a big prospect after coming up through the ranks.

Their summer-long pursuit caused a major and unwanted distraction, with James handing in two transfer requests and failing to show up for training for three days.

The £500,000 deal was finally confirmed 90 minutes before the summer transfer window slammed shut, with Pools unable to replace his 16 goals going into the new campaign.

A recipe for disaster and so it proved.

Three managers before Christmas as Pools hit rock bottom:

On October 4, Hartlepool United sunk to the bottom of Sky Bet League Two following a 3-0 home defeat to Carlisle United after a miserable start to the season, which included heavy thumpings at Port Vale in the cup and Northampton in the league.

Pools were lacking goals, pace and quality across the pitch as Cooper’s tenure as Pools boss came to a disappointing and premature end.

The ex-Boro and England defender handed in his notice within minutes of the Carlisle defeat, unable to take the players any further, including a lot of the players he had brought in following a poor recruitment policy.

Player coach Sam Collins was parachuted into the dugout for the first of two spells as caretaker manager.

By the end of the month, Pools took the surprising decision to appoint former player Paul Murray as manager with Willie Donachie as his Number 2.

Club officials hoped the partnership would prove inspired but it was anything but, with the situation crying out for an experienced manager.

Their tenure lasted just seven games – their final game the humiliating defeat to non-league Blyth Spartans live to the nation.

With no uplift in league form either, that defeat proved the final straw and within hours they had both been axed.

A bold decision but the correct one by owners IOR.

Collins was back for one game only, the 4-0 annihilation at Burton Albion in front of the watching Ronnie Moore, appointed boss days later.

It proved an inspired decision but more on Moore later.

New owners announced before takeover bid falls through:

On the same day Ronnie Moore was appointed manager, the club announced TMH (The Monkey Hangers) 2014 would be taking over from IOR in a dramatic day at Victoria Park.

Promises of new signings, new investment, a new direction followed as Pools fans celebrated an early Christmas present.

Not everything was as it seemed though and six weeks later the takeover had collapsed, club officials and owners IOR had become increasingly concerned about the proposed new owner’s plans for Pools and the individuals involved and pulled the plug on the deal at the eleventh hour.

The loan signings Moore had already brought in at the start of January were being funded by IOR as the owners renewed their commitment to the club for the rest of the season.

They have their strong critics but it was another bold move from the owners to scrap the takeover, with Hodcroft adamant it was done with the club’s long-term interests at heart.

The club remains up for sale, with the hierarchy keen to also attract new sponsors and new investment from local businesses and beyond.

This summer presents a big opportunity to re-build after three seasons of strife but who owns the club in the long term remains up in the air.

The Ronnie Moore effect:

It is difficult to sum up the influence Moore had on the club in the space of just five months.

After being out of work for eight months following his sacking from Tranmere, Pools presented him with the opportunity to get back into the game.

And he didn’t half take it. His approach was no-nonsense from the off, nobody was safe from his wrath as he tore into the players to spark a response.

It worked. For the first five months of the season Pools were awful, producing some of the most uninspired, flat, toothless performances supporters have witnessed in a long time.

But they were transformed under Moore, with the help of key loan signings.

His management style, positive outlook and eye for detail, coupled with an upturn in performances saw Pools pull off the Great Escape with a game to spare.

Moore probably won’t win manager of the year, that title usually goes to the manager that wins the league but he deserves some sort of recognition from the town.

With the support of his passionate backroom staff, he inspired a town and a team to achieve something quite special.

Key loan signings prove the difference:

With money tight and the club adrift, attracting any new signings was always going to be a tough ask.

Yet Moore pulled it off with all of his loan signings making an impact, even Marvin Morgan scored the winner against Northampton Town before falling out of favour.

Rakish Bingham, Ryan Bird, Jordan Jones, Aaron Tshibola all made an impact, while the star performers were David Mirfin and Jordan Hugill.

Mirfin an experienced rock at the back and Hugill scoring crucial goals in the final weeks to help keep Pools up.

Permanent players Scott Fenwick, Nicky Featherstone, Dan Jones and Scott Harrison were all vital too.

With a full summer to bring in his own players and stamp his mark further, it should be an interesting few weeks ahead.

Never Say Die attitude epitomises Pools fans:

Supporters have been through the mill this season and that is an understatement.

Their team were on the brink of relegation out of the Football League, cast adrift at the beginning of March before four straight wins and a draw saw the club pull themselves out of the drop zone.

A remarkable run, yet they almost slipped back in after a nervy April saw their survival bid stutter.

Thankfully, both Cheltenham and Tranmere Rovers were even worse and plummeted out of League Two without much of a fight.

Pools had been spurred on by their incredible backing, more than 2,000 fans travelled to York City and Carlisle United in the final few weeks, while the home support increased thanks to a ticket offer from the owners.

It proved the difference, with everyone sticking together and pulling in the same direction.

The celebrations on the pitch after the final home game against Exeter summed it up perfectly.

Now a huge summer of rebuilding awaits and previous mistakes cannot be repeated if Pools are to avoid another season like the one just gone.