Dave Challinor praises the 'never say die' impact of former Morecambe striker Rhys Oates on his return to Hartlepool United
When Rhys Oates returned to Hartlepool United last summer, many were unsure just what to expect.
The 26-year-old forward’s signing back in August was initially met with a fairly mixed response given his previous spell at the club and injury troubles.
A dozen goals in 99 league appearances for Hartlepool between 2015 and 2018 saw Oates labelled as a player who works hard but doesn’t score enough.
This season has been a different story. Following a stop-start opening half to the 2020-21 campaign, Oates and Pools’ season sprung into life with a 4-0 win against Stockport County with the forward netting his first goal since his return in emphatic fashion.
In the space of half a season, Oates has already equalled his goal tally from his previous three year stint at the club. It’s the first time he’s notched double figures in a season.
And Hartlepool manager Dave Challinor has been delighted to see the forward silence any doubters.
“Oatesy has been brilliant and that’s why we brought him back to the club,” he told The Mail.
“You know what you’re going to get, he’s a player who has been here previously and he’s another one that can divide opinion, I think that’s the nature of this football club and the fan base.
"When you strip things back, the supporters will ultimately say they want players out on the pitch who give 100 per-cent and as the back of the shirt says, show that ‘never say die’ spirit – he epitomises that.
"Whether he has a great game, a rubbish game, scores, doesn’t score, you know what you’re going to get and from a management perspective, if you can have eight or nine of them in your starting line-up then you’re not in a bad place to move forward."
Challinor also feels Oates has benefited from playing in a more central striking role alongside fellow top-scorer Luke Armstrong opposed to being shifted out on the wing.
His goal against Maidenhead United on Saturday is already being tipped for goal of the season even if it did only prove to be a consolation from Hartlepool’s perspective.
“Oatesy coming back here has proved a few people wrong and all of a sudden, people’s opinions may have changed about him,” Challinor continued.
"If I was him on Saturday, I would be absolutely ripping strips off some of our players because it was a great goal that will unfortunately be tarnished by the fact that we’ve conceded four and lost the game.
"But he’s got that in his locker and when he was here previously, maybe it was the position and the system he played him that didn’t suit him as much.
“That maybe lead him to seeing himself more as a wide player but this season, as a central striker, he’s been a real handful and scored a lot of different types of goals.
"If you combine him and Luke and if he can do what Luke does in terms of scoring tap ins and those ‘easy goals’ in and around the six yard box then you’ve got the complete player.
"If he did that over the course of the season then he’d be a player who could get 20-plus goals for us.”