Former Hartlepool United stalwart Ben Clark hopeful Pools will challenge for promotion next season

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Former Hartlepool United stalwart Ben Clark is hoping Pools will challenge for promotion next season.

Clark played 46 times, forming an impressive partnership with Michael Nelson, as Pools won promotion from League Two in 2007.

Clark's time at the club was one of the last successful periods in the modern era, with Pools winning just one promotion in the next 17 years and dropping out of the Football League for the first time in the club's history. Indeed, Pools have finished in the bottom half in 14 of the last 17 campaigns.

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However, Pools are beginning another new era, and that always brings with it at least some hope and renewed optimism.

Former Pools defender Ben Clark is backing his old side to improve on last season's 12th placed finish.Former Pools defender Ben Clark is backing his old side to improve on last season's 12th placed finish.
Former Pools defender Ben Clark is backing his old side to improve on last season's 12th placed finish.

New manager Darren Sarll has a good record of curating sides capable of challenging towards the top end of the National League, having masterminded play-off finishes at both Yeovil and Woking.

The new boss professed his determination to "close that gap" between Pools and the play-offs, which stood at five places and 11 points at the end of last season.

Pools look to have made a reasonable start to their summer business, signing lively AFC Fylde forward Luke Charman as well as Jack Hunter, who made 44 appearances in a Halifax team that finished seventh last term.

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And while Sarll's side are still in need of a number of new additions, Pools have a strong core which the new boss can build the team around, including prize assets Mani Dieseruvwe and Joe Grey.

A lot will depend on whether Pools can keep hold of the prolific pair, who scored 38 goals between them last season.

In Luke Waterfall and Tom Parkes, Pools boast two experienced and impressive centre-halves, while the return of Dan Dodds could provide a big boost. The future of mercurial Frenchman Anthony Mancini remains uncertain.

With the fifth highest average attendance last season and a proud history as a Football League club, fans are - understandably - desperate to see their side compete towards the top end of the table.

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And Clark, who was part of the Pools squad that reached the League One play-off final in 2005, believes his former side can challenge for promotion next season.

"Hartlepool are a Football League club," he said.

"I remember when I was there and we were challenging for promotion in League One. That's where this club belongs, and it's what the fans deserve.

"Absolutely, I think they can challenge next season.

"The National League is so difficult, there are a lot of good sides and there are teams with big budgets. I think you'd have to look at Barnet, Solihull and Forest Green as all being up there, and I think Gateshead will have another strong season. If Southend can get their issues sorted, they could be competitive as well.

"Keeping hold of Mani's going to be massive. As well as his goals, he adds so much to the team.

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"I think you look at the new manager and he's got a good record at this level. I think fans will respond to what he wants to do.

"Momentum is just massive in football. A good start is so important.

"I remember the momentum we had when we got promoted from League Two; once you start winning games, it becomes so much easier.

"With the fans on side, the Vic can be such a difficult place to visit.

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"The manager knows what he wants to do, so it's about getting the right players in and making a good start.

"I'm hopeful they can improve and have a good season, it would be great to see them back in League Two."

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