Hartlepool United boss Matthew Bates sets sights on National League play-off push
Matthew Bates has dropped his guard to reveal a play-off finish is his National League target for this season.
The Hartlepool United boss has been quite vocal about keeping expectations in check since taking the role - something that has been echoed from top to bottom at Pools this summer.
But ahead of the club’s first game in their second season in the fifth tier today at Maidstone, Bates has revealed he is setting his sights on a place in the top seven, bettering their disappointing 15th-placed reward for last season’s efforts.
“Last season seems a million miles away, it’s a different club,” he said, reflecting back on a summer of transformation at Victoria Park.
“I took over in dire straits and now we are all looking forward.
“Success would mean challenging up there and if we are in with a shout of the play-off places then it’s been a very good season.
“We have a very quick start in this league, the first two months are busy.
“We won’t get too carried away with wins and too down with losses.
“We will be level headed and stick with our aims which we hope will see us alright.”
Under Craig Harrison Pools got off to a shocker of a start last season.
Six games without a win - including an opening day reverse on home turf to Dover Athletic - added to pressure and meant Pools were constantly chasing their tails, and that’s without all of the off-field woes.
A solid start is a priority for Pools this campaign admits Bates.
But it is not necessarily the be all and end all.
“Last year we didn’t get off to a good start, we need a better one,” he said.
“I was looking at stats the other day and you would be surprised at how the winning teams start.
“I’m sure we will have a bad spell in there somewhere, but we want to start fast and we have worked hard.
“We will be fit, I’d be surprised if there’s any fitter sides in the league, but we won’t get too high or low with results.”
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One thing that has got people talking this summer is the quality of player added to the ranks under Bates.
Liam Noble has dropped from the top end of League Two, Andrew Davies from a captaincy in the Scottish Premiership - they are just two examples in a summer of seemingly positive additions.
“There’s a good squad here capable of challenging and it’s up to me to get them on the pitch and keeping players happy,” he said.
“There’s a philosophy over how I want to play and there will be headaches along the way with a competitive squad.
“But I prefer that to last season when we were dragging youth players along who weren’t ready.
“The squad is strong, I’ve said before that I’m happy with what we have.
“A better squad than I thought we could have assembled, with competition all over.
“We have four attacking players for up top, a lot of midfielders, competition at the back, wing-back, full-back and a squad that has players all capable of stepping into the team in a comfortable manner.
“It’s a new season with a new squad and I’ve not been surprised by the numbers we have got because that’s what I wanted, but I am surprised with the quality.
“We have done well in the transfer market.
“But I said from day one I wanted that sort of numbers for competition and it’s credit to the chairman, Craig Hignett and Mark Maguire who have backed me.”
He continued: “No excuses from this side, we are prepared with a great squad and looking at a successful season.
“Pre-season has gone well, there are players there who weren’t on our radar at the start of pre-season and then we moved quickly when we had to.
“ I don’t want to tempt fate.
“But it was a fairly simple pre-season in terms of bringing players in and I hope that as long as I am in management then that’s the case.”