Five reasons behind Hartlepool United's impressive form ahead of Salford City clash
After a miserable few seasons at what is now the Super 6 Stadium, Hartlepool United are daring to reach for the sky again as they climb up the National League.
Matthew Bates’ men have only lost one of 12 league games this season, and are now unbeaten in their last nine.
But what is the secret behind their sudden consistency after years of struggle?
We look at five reasons why Pools are on course to regain their Football League status this season.
Matthew Bates, appointed permanently in the summer, helped steady the ship last season and has now revitalised a Pools squad to the point where they are serious National League title contenders.
And he’s still only 31.
Bates was playing for the club as recently as 2017 - alongside some of his current squad. Captain Carl Magnay, Nicky Featherstone and Michael Woods all counted Bates as a teammate, and that has clearly made for a positive dressing room.
By adding some exciting young prospects to the experienced players he knows well, Bates is building a balanced side capable of both short-term and long-term growth.
Hartlepool’s rise to fifth place in the National League, just three points off league leaders Leyton Orient, is largely down to their away form.
Pools' only defeat in their opening 12 matches was at home, while they have won four of six away games so far – the best record in the division.
That puts them already within sight of the seven victories they won on their travels last season.
Encouragingly, Pools have won their last four games on the road – against Dagenham & Redbridge, Havant & Waterlooville, Solihull Moors and FC Halifax Town.
Hartlepool’s defence has drastically improved from last season, with new captain Andrew Davies and young star Peter Kioso the main reasons why.
And manager Bates must also take credit for switching to a back three.
Kioso, a product of MK Dons’ academy, was a surprise signing from Dunstable Town but has adapted superbly to National League life and won several man of the match awards.
Ex-Middlesbrough defender Davies was injured against Ebbsfleet United early on in the season but has since made his return and his experience is invaluable.
And Bates’ wing-backs have been vital in Pools’ success in transitioning from defence to attack, with new signing Mark Kitching and converted winger Ryan Donaldson also excelling.
Noble’s arrival from League Two side Notts County has strengthened Pools’ midfield considerably.
The attack-minded playmaker has picked up six goals and two assists in 12 games this season, providing quality and experienced support to Pools’ strikers while also working back well when needed.
Noble has been an ever-present face in midfield three playing alongside Nicky Featherstone and either Paddy McLaughin or Michael Woods, and has captained the side in
And Noble is one of several of Bates’ signings who have made a big impression and share a common trait.
Luke James, Mark Kitching, Luke Williams and Noble are all North East lads who have come home – and there is a real sense of pride in the Pools ranks as a result.
Despite the recent hard times at the Super 6 Stadium, Pools have averaged an impressive 3,361 fans through the gates so far this season.
Incredibly, almost 1,000 fans made the trip to watch Pools win at Halifax at the weekend, underlining that an always loyal and passionate fanbase has been maintained.