Dominic Scurr's column: The key to Hartlepool United’s success in League Two this season

‘It’s the most important thing for us.’

Tuesday, 24th August 2021, 4:30 pm

Ever since Dave Challinor arrived at Hartlepool United, he outlined a clear goal to try and bring the good times back to Victoria Park.

Somehow, even through a global pandemic which saw supporters banished from stadiums for the best part of 18-months, he’s managed to do just that.

His message has been consistent, he can’t promise wins or guarantee success but he will promise a side that gives everything that supporters will be proud of.

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Hartlepool United's player celebrate after Gavan Holohan scored their winning goal during the Sky Bet League 2 match between Hartlepool United and Crawley Town at Victoria Park, Hartlepool on Saturday 7th August 2021. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

To do that, Pools have had to adapt their playing style. A change in system and personnel has helped galvanise the players and supporters in the stands.

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With that, a previously dormant feeling has returned to the Victoria Park terraces – positivity.

Hartlepool United manager Dave Challinor celebrates after the final whistle during the Sky Bet League 2 match between Hartlepool United and Walsall at Victoria Park, Hartlepool on Saturday 21st August 2021. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

It’s not something that happened overnight, it’s been built slowly over the past couple of seasons. Towards the end of the 2019-20 campaign, the early signs were there that the good times were returning after a near 14-year absence.

Without fans last season, the shackles were off for Pools as they could experiment and play without their every move being judged by a vocal home crowd.

And that benefited the side as they boasted one of the best home records in the National League having gone on a remarkable run of form at The Vic.

Eight wins in a row, then unbeaten in 13 – come the end of the season they had won 14 of their last 16 home matches which proved crucial in securing promotion back to the Football League.

Hartlepool United's Will Goodwin celebrates after Tyler Burey scored their first goal during the Sky Bet League 2 match between Hartlepool United and Walsall at Victoria Park, Hartlepool on Saturday 21st August 2021. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

So far that momentum has continued to build with the return of fans and League Two football. Two games, two wins, two clean sheets and almost 10,000 fans in attendance has helped Hartlepool get off to a solid start.

‘Save Pools Day’ aside, the 5,184 opening day crowd against Crawley Town and 4,677 attendance against Walsall comfortably surpassed any figure Pools achieved at Victoria Park in four seasons in the National League.

"Our home form is massively crucial – it's the most important thing for us,” Challinor told The Mail.

“I spoke about it when I first came to the football club about the home form not being as good as what it could be.

"It's not just ourselves and the players take credit for that but everyone because it needed to change.”

Challinor was aware of the issue prior to his arrival at Pools. Victoria Park was an easy place to go for opposition sides in the National League.

Perhaps it was Challinor’s final visit to Victoria Park with AFC Fylde side that subliminally planted that seed in his mind.

Just over two months before his appointment at Pools, Challinor witnessed his floundering AFC Fylde side come back from two goals down inside the final 10-minutes at Victoria Park to secure a point.

The result wasn’t met with outrage from the stands, rather a shrug, an acceptance that this was the norm for Hartlepool United.

But not any more.

“The atmosphere, the optimism, the belief needed to change around the ground,” Challinor added.

“We managed to turn things around during our first season here and then keep that going with no atmosphere but now we've got a crowd back in, even in just a couple of games you can feel what that means.

"Everyone has played a huge part in that, no more so than the supporters.”

There are few bigger cliches in football than home form being important. But Challinor and his team have been able to quickly turn Victoria Park from a cesspit of failure and dismay to a place that fans and players seem to relish being at.

The North West Corner fan group – invigorated by Challinor’s ethos and Pools’ on field results – have worked tirelessly to re-establish the atmosphere at Victoria Park to great effect.

As we all know, Hartlepool is an usual place, not one you just pass through or visit on a whim – it’s a place you have to come to and embrace. Do that and the town will embrace you back.

That’s what Challinor has succeeded in doing so far. His post-match fist pumps are now a staple of the matchday experience for Poolies, providing Pools win of course!

But winning at home is something they’ve become very good at. With 16 wins from their last 18 home league matches, Pools boast the best home record of any side in England’s top five divisions at the moment.

Newly promoted Premier League side Watford are the only other team who come close to Pools with 15 wins from their last 18, even the mighty Manchester City only have 12.

“Our home form is going to be absolutely crucial between now and the end of the season in terms of what we achieve,” Challinor concluded.

"Even as a minimum, let's be clear we want to get to 50 points as quickly as we can and the home games will play a massive part in that.

“Getting positive results not only brings enjoyment within the ground between three o’clock and five o’clock, it brings all this extra stuff which means people hang around and have a good weekend or go to work and they enjoy the rest of the week.”

Saturday’s visit of Carlisle United is sure to test Pools’ credentials in front of another bumper crowd at Victoria Park. The Cumbrian outfit have already sold out their away allocation and have rather cheekily requested more tickets.

After 15 months of near silence on Clarence Road, the good times and the great atmosphere are back and hopefully they are here to stay.

Whether it be survival, mid-table or another play-off charge, Pools’ form at The Vic will be the foundation to any success they have this season.

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