Column: Give Dave Challinor a chance in League Two and Hartlepool United could reap the rewards
Hartlepool United’s pre-season has been a lot tougher than Dave Challinor had anticipated when the club secured promotion back into League Two back in June.
Six weeks on and Pools are about to open their League Two season this weekend on the back of a largely underwhelming pre-season campaign.
Five matches against non-league opponents over the past month hasn’t been the ideal preparation Hartlepool would have been hoping for as they look ahead to facing Football League opposition week-in, week-out.
For Challinor, this is his first taste of EFL management and it’s an opportunity he certainly doesn’t plan on wasting. To do that he’ll need the right tools at his disposal.
In the National League, Challinor was able to get the best out of his Pools squad on a reported mid-table budget to secure promotion ahead of big spending Wrexham, Notts County and Stockport County.
Pools have been able to keep hold of and tie down most of the players Challinor wanted to keep. The only notable exceptions being Rhys Oates, Ryan Johnson, Lewis Cass and Luke Armstrong.
It will be Challinor’s players and squad who start the League Two campaign and it’s his responsibility to continue to get the best out of it. He’s well aware of the consequences of failing to do that.
Preparations have been difficult during a shortened pre-season but that can’t and won’t be used as an excuse as Pools can’t afford to have a slow start to the season. The consequences of dropping back into the National League would be disastrous.
But there’s no reason why that should happen with Challinor at the helm. He has a point to prove having orchestrated the promotion and should be more than capable of dealing with the tactical challenges League Two throws his way.
But after an exhausting 2020-21 campaign followed by a frustrating pre-season, doubts concerning the squad are understandable and arguably justified following some of the friendly results over the past couple of weeks.
Challinor has cut a frustrated figure recently, new contract talks have stalled and put on the back burner and player recruitment has been slow. Any optimism built up by the promotion on June 20 has dissipated over the course of pre-season.
"Yeah it’s been difficult,” Challinor told The Mail.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen with players, budgets, the situation we’ve been in for the past 18 months. We missed out on players because we didn’t know what division we would be in and all those things.”
Regarding a new contract at Pools, he simply said: “I’d love to be able to commit but I have to do what’s right for me and my family.”
Pools will be looking to run with a squad of around 22 senior players in League Two this season, they will be operating on an improved but relatively modest budget once again.
As Challinor has blatantly suggested on several occasions over the past few weeks, Pools' squad still needs strengthening significantly before August 31.
The Hartlepool manager will be looking to be shrewd in the loan market, as he has been over the previous two seasons.
But first and foremost he needs plenty of backing from the club.
Challinor could have been patient and got a Football League job after leaving AFC Fylde in 2019, instead he took a chance on Pools and believed in what the club could be despite its alarming history of failure and short managerial tenures.
He’s changed that and brought Hartlepool back to where it belongs, the club needs to trust him to keep the momentum going and bring in the players needed.
Away from the pitch, there is plenty that needs sorting out too. What infrastructure the club had was torn away as a cost-cutting measure during the coronavirus pandemic, it needs rebuilding.
The appointment of a new CEO will help get the ball rolling in that respect and provide some organisation and direction away from the pitch. Pools are still operating with a non-league set-up heading into the Football League.
It’s things like this that aren’t going to help convince Challinor to commit his long term future at Victoria Park.
But something that will help is the welcome training ground move from East Durham College to the new facility at Maiden Castle.
The Pools boss described the new training ground as ‘an amazing place that will only get better’.
"The S&C, the recovery, the nutrition, it’s an environment for elite sports people and there’s no better environment for the players to be involved in on a day-to-day basis,” he told The Mail.
"We’ve got the best facilities in the area and it’s something that will massively help us moving forward.”
The foundations are in place for Pools to have a good season in League Two should they recruit smartly over the next month.
With Challinor as manager they have someone who is no pushover and won’t just sit back at accept any form of relegation battle.
We’ve seen just from pre-season his passion and drive to do well not to mention how much he despises losing even if very little is on the line. These are great characteristics for a successful manager but they can have a detrimental affect when in charge of a struggling side.
Preparations have been tough and Challinor and his players can only do so much with the hand that has been dealt to them as a consequence of their promotion.
But at the core there remains a determination and drive to succeed by not making excuses and focusing on the task at hand.
"It has been tougher than I thought,” Challinor admitted. “But that’s an excuse and I’m not going to whinge about it and I certainly don’t expect people to feel sorry for me or the players.
"We’ll crack on and get things right.”