Exploring the reasons behind Graeme Lee's Hartlepool United sacking: Are these the factors that led Raj Singh to make call?

Were Hartlepool United right to part company with manager Graeme Lee?

By Joe Ramage
Friday, 6th May 2022, 3:56 pm

It’s a question which is going to be asked for quite some time over the summer, or at least until Pools are able to confirm the new man in charge.

And it is a question which is quite nuanced in the answers you try to provide.

From the outset, this looks like a harsh decision to sack a manager who succeeded in achieving the objective in which the club tasked him with.

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Hartlepool United parted company with Graeme Lee ahead of their final game of the season against Colchester United. (Credit: James Holyoak | MI News)

Peel back some of those layers however, and there is some justification to the decision.

So, to try and understand the decision further, let’s look at some of the reasons why Pools might have opted to pull the trigger on Lee.

Form

The most obvious place to start is the form guide which does not paint the greatest of pictures over recent weeks.

Hartlepool United's home form has become a concern recently as Pools are without a win in seven at the Suit Direct Stadium. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

Pools are second bottom over the last six games, and only manage to climb up one place over the last 10 games, having won just one of those, and you can extend that further to just two wins in 15.

The drop off has been alarming as far as results are concerned and lately with performances, too.

The second half at Rochdale followed by the limp defeat against Swindon Town and the failure to beat an already relegated Scunthorpe United, who had seven teenagers in their starting line-up, have been particularly disappointing.

You could argue it is the second stretch of poor form Pools have found themselves in since Lee’s appointment having gone seven without a win over the turn of the year.

Gavan Holohan left Hartlepool United for Grimsby Town. (Credit: Will Matthews | MI News)

It’s a results business, and few could argue with them over recent weeks despite the mitigating circumstances.

Home form

Diving a little deeper into the form, and particularly at home, this would be a concern.

Pools have prided themselves on a strong record at the Suit Direct Stadium over the 18 months prior to Lee’s appointment. But when it comes to the league, Lee has won just three of his 13 games in charge.

Pools supporters have been superb at the Suit Direct Stadium this season but in recent weeks, they too, have seemed a little dejected given the run of form with a smattering of boos from those who remained at the full-time whistle against Swindon, with their side without a win in seven now on home soil.

Goals

Both for and against it has been an issue for Pools this season.

Only five teams have scored fewer and conceded more this season with three of those occupying the bottom three spots in the division.

Lee’s arrival was initially reciprocated with a flurry of clean sheets, with six in 10 games games following the win over Rochdale.

Conversely however, Pools have kept just one in 15 games since then as part of 62 goals against this campaign.

Another issue which has plagued Lee’s tenure when it comes to goals is the number of times his team have conceded first.

Just once in the last 15 games have Pools taken the lead, which came at Rochdale in a game they would then go on to lose.

Of the remaining 14, one of which ended as a goalless draw, Pools have fallen behind 13 times. It has felt as though they are constantly chasing in games and has ultimately proved difficult to come back from continuously.

Player exits

Hindsight, as we know, is a wonderful thing and few could have foreseen the injury crisis which has bestowed itself upon Pools in recent weeks.

In that sense it is perhaps easy to suggest Pools were naive in letting a number of their fringe players leave from January onwards.

Speaking to The Mail last week Lee said on the matter: “You look at it now and think ‘yeah we shouldn’t have’ [let players go] but at the time I think I had four centre halves in the building and I had three fullbacks.

“I wanted a 21 man squad and that’s what I had coming out of January and yeah you get some injuries and you sit and you reflect and think, but everything you do you try and learn from and adapt.

“I look now and think in hindsight it would have been nice to keep one or two just because we’ve had five or six injuries at one time but that might not have happened and it wouldn’t have been a question.”

But of the players who have left since January, it is perhaps the exit of midfielder Gavan Holohan which was the most significant.

Holohan, a fan favourite at the Suit Direct Stadium, made just 10 appearances under Lee, five as a starter, before his departure to Grimsby Town with Lee keen to utilise loan signings Isaac Fletcher and Joe White ahead of the Irishman.

The end of Holohan’s stay was mixed with a series of squad absences where Lee suggested the Irishman might have had his opportunity, owing to injuries elsewhere, before he left for the National League.

Would Holohan staying have made the difference?

Unlikely, but it is one issue which might have been resolved, while others who were allowed to leave could have contributed in recent weeks where Pools have failed to fill their bench.

Signings

The club statement, when addressing Lee’s departure, states ‘a significant downturn in results and performances over recent months, despite investment in new players during the January transfer window’ as reasoning for the decision.

But investment or not, how have Lee’s January recruits fared?

Fletcher, White, Bryn Morris, Omar Bogle, Marcus Carver, Jake Hull and Nicholas Bilokapic were who Lee brought to the club - five of those on-loan, one a free transfer and the other an undisclosed addition from the National League North.

It’s probably fair to say it has been a mixed bag in terms of the outcome of those acquisitions.

In White and Fletcher there are two raw youngsters who might have shown glimpses here and there but often struggled with the physicality of League Two.

Newcastle United man White featured quite regularly and did demonstrate his potential at times but with both he and Fletcher there were queries as to where they are best suited positionally.

Hull and Bilokapic have rarely featured, making it difficult to provide a complete summary, while Carver has struggled to make the jump back up to the Football League.

A promising debut at Bristol Rovers was followed by an injury and he hasn’t been able to get completely back up to speed.

But if Carver’s best form is not to be seen until next season owning to fitness concerns, then the question to be asked, would be why bring him in at the midway stage of the season when Pools needed an instant impact?

In Morris and Bogle, however, there were instant impacts with both contributing to February’s fine run of form, which ultimately helped Pools stay in the division.

However, Morris picked up an injury which has derailed his season since, while Bogle’s form, like the team, has fallen off and will be of concern.

Summary

In summary then, there is a strong case to be had as to why Pools have made the decision to part ways with Lee despite the success he brought to the club in terms of maintaining their League Two status combined with their cup adventures.

In the ruthless nature of the football business, results dictate and for Lee those results have fallen short over the last two months in relation to the club’s targets of eventually reaching League One.