Five things Hartlepool United's new manager Graeme Lee needs to address
It’s been a long four weeks for Hartlepool United following the surprise exit of Dave Challinor.
Pools were rocked by Challinor’s decision to jump ship to Stockport County last month, leaving first team coach Antony Sweeney to pick up the pieces as he became the stopgap while Pools searched for a new manager.
Lee is no stranger at the Suit Direct Stadium having spent the early stages of his playing career with Pools making over 250 appearances for the club from 1995-2003.
‘Spike’ became a fan favourite at the Suit Direct Stadium alongside Michael Nelson who has joined Lee as his assistant manager.
But just what are Lee and Nelson walking into at Hartlepool?
While both are familiar with the surroundings, there has been a lot of change at the football club since they last featured over a decade ago.
Pools have suffered the indignity of relegation from the Football League before last season’s heroics in the promotion final success over Torquay United.
And Pools made an excellent start to life back in League Two, flirting with the play-off places before Challinor made his decision to move on.
Since then, interim boss Sweeney has been on the wrong side of results as Pools have slipped to four straight defeats on his watch to drop into the bottom half of the table.
But while Lee will be walking into a club sitting eight points above the relegation zone, the new manager still has a number of things he will need to address if Pools are to arrest their recent slump in form and avoid a swift return to non-league.
Here at The Mail we look at five things Lee will need to focus on.
At the beginning of the season the goals against column wasn’t necessarily a cause for concern with Pools letting in just six from their opening eight league games. In that time, Challinor’s side kept four clean sheets suggesting they were a stubborn unit to break down.
In recent weeks however, the foundations of that have crumbled with Pools shipping 15 goals in their last five League Two fixtures - only bottom-of-the-table Scunthorpe United have conceded more than Pools this season.
And it may be something which Lee has already considered when addressing the club upon his arrival.
“Our main job is to come in and assess the squad and see how we can improve the team on the pitch. There’s things already we’ve looked at that we want to get straight on to and that’s our main goal,” Lee said.
“The start of the season was good, it was promising and they showed they can compete in this league. Obviously with the manager leaving it’s been a bit disruptive.”
Beyond conceding goals, it’s imperative for Lee and his staff to find a solution to Pools’ troubling away form.
Pools sit rock bottom of the away league table with just four points from a possible 30 following Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at Port Vale.
The away form has been of concern for a while with Pools winning just eight of their 21 games on the road in their National League promotion winning campaign last season.
Interim boss Sweeney addressed the away issues recently telling The Mail: “The away form has always been a concern, it runs not just this season but it goes back to last season as well.
“This was always a situation we needed to turn around. It's just being highlighted because the home form has dipped off a little bit.”
In order to improve their away form however, Lee must address Pools’ goal scoring deficiencies.
While Pools have tended to have decent possession in good areas of the pitch, they struggle to create clear cut chances on a regular basis. Pools sit 23rd in the expected goals league table as per FootyStats with 0.91 goals expected per game.
Despite Mark Cullen’s striker's instinct, he often has little to feed off in games with Pools scoring more than once on just six occasions in the league this season, failing to score in seven.
A lack of goals would not be an issue providing you are able to keep the back door shut as shown by Tranmere Rovers who sit 10th despite scoring just 15 goals. So Lee must find a way for Pools to be effective in both boxes.
Two weeks ago Pools’ home form would not have even been contemplated for this list.
However, back-to-back defeats against Newport County and Forest Green Rovers have seen a little bit of the mystique blurred at the Suit Direct Stadium.
While this won’t be particularly high on Lee’s agenda currently, it will be important for the new manager to get off to a good start with the visit of Rochdale next week to stop a poor run of form creeping in at the Suit Direct Stadium.
Pools have taken 19 of their 23 points at home so it is key they get back to winning ways as quickly as possible.
Unity with fans
One of the reasons why Pools’ home form has been so formidable, particularly this season, has been because of the rapport the team have built up with supporters.
Former boss Challinor was hugely popular with fans and Lee will be hoping his time on the field as a fan favourite can translate into the dugout.
“The atmosphere is on another level,” he said.
“The songs are continuous, even when they’ve gone behind the fans go again and that’s key.
“If you’re 1-0 down and the fans can give you that little edge then it’s brilliant.
“My little boy came and he wants to be in that end with all the lads singing. It’s amazing and we want to give them something to keep that atmosphere going.
“I back myself and I believe I’ll give them something to cheer about.”