Comment: Why Liam Noble's Hartlepool United exit to join Morpeth Town has more to it than meets the eye
Five years ago if you’d been told Hartlepool United would lose their top scorer to Morpeth Town, you would have been forgiven for assuming something apocalyptic was on the horizon.
Yet here we are in 2019 and Pools have just allowed Liam Noble to join the newly promoted BetVictor Northern Premier Division side on a four-year deal.
There was no effort to keep the 28-year-old, they practically helped the Highwaymen roll out the red carpet, giving him the weekend off and showing the player the door at his own jurisdiction.
And the departure was accepted with little more than a shrug. Most fans wished him well with an air of confusion but no tears shed.
After Noble agreed a new deal at Pools in the summer, his move to a side two divisions below less than two months into the new season will undoubtedly be questioned.
An argument could be made as to whether Noble should have been handed a new deal at The Vic in the first place given his swift exit.
Further saturating the midfield with the signings of Jason Kennedy and Gus Mafuta over the summer meant no players were guaranteed a start.
Noble is still the second most used midfielder behind Mafuta at Pools this season so any unrest in that regard wouldn’t really be justified.
The midfielder’s exit does provide new opportunities for players to come in and impress. The criminally underused Gavan Holohan could finally be given a run of games,
The Irishman’s ability to tackle, run and pose a threat in and around the box means he’s far from a downgrade in midfield.
Youngsters Josh Hawkes and Adam Bale should also get more chances to fulfil their promise.
When on song, Noble is one of the best midfielders in the National League, a level he’s never dropped below during his playing career until now.
As one of the few members of the Pools squad who have been promoted from the fifth tier, Noble knows what it takes to get out of this league.
And perhaps Hartlepool’s indifferent start to the season had Noble weighing up his options and assessing the fleeting chances of a Football League return.
At just 28, the Sunderland academy graduate still had a lot to offer at Pools in the fifth tier. A ‘lack of ambition’ springs to mind in regards to his move – but is it really?
Noble has joined a club very much on the up, signing a four-year deal and securing his future. He’ll be a guaranteed starter at Craik Park and with Morpeth achieving back-to-back promotions, there’s nothing to suggest they won’t stop moving up the leagues given their financial backing.
The part-time contract also paves the way for non-playing roles which provide post-playing career stability. This isn’t the Premier League, players at this level literally can’t afford to dwell on decisions that can provide security and the job satisfaction of playing regularly in a successful side.
Noble’s pre-existing relationship with Morpeth boss Nicky Gray will also have been a factor with the pair coaching at Newcastle City Juniors.
In contrast, questions have been raised regarding the midfielder’s dynamic with Pools boss Craig Hignett following their very visible and audible spat following Noble’s substitution during the defeat against Dover Athletic.
Had that match not been marred in controversy, more may have been made out of the altercation in what ultimately proved to be Noble’s final start for the club.
But the Pools boss still wished Noble well on his exit as he explained: “Liam was made an offer and it was something he told us he would like to explore.
“It works for him and his family, and offers him more stability, so we let him discuss the move with them to see whether he wanted to pursue it.
“I would like to thank Liam for all his efforts during his time with the Club and hope things work out well for him at Morpeth.”
In Noble, Hartlepool have lost a big character in the dressing room, a proven playmaker as well as last season’s top goalscorer.
Despite that, there are no real losers in this deal. The player gets his move, Morpeth get themselves a quality player and Pools’ midfield becomes less saturated while freeing up a decent chunk of wages.
The legacy Noble leaves at Victoria Park will be a divisive one dependant on who you ask. While he scored goals from midfield, 10 of his 16 strikes came from the penalty spot with a further three spot-kicks being missed.
His arrival from Notts County last summer was met with plenty of optimism and expectation. His departure 15-months later leaves with it a sense of frustration and unfulfilled potential.
When he was at it, Noble was brilliant for Hartlepool. He could run games single-handedly and more often that not if the midfielder played well, Pools got the result.
If Noble was able to produce such performances consistently, he’d be playing far higher than National League level – instead he’s plying his trade at Morpeth.
And it’s a move that is indicative of Pools’ level once again. Suddenly, playing for Morpeth two leagues below is a more attractive prospect than playing for Pools.
The club are now direct competitors with the likes of Blyth, Spennymoor, Gateshead, Darlington, South Shields and Morpeth not only as local rivals but for players too.
Hartlepool may be the big fish in a small pond, but they’re still in the same pond – and the other fish are getting bigger.