Half-term report: How have Hartlepool United fared in the first half of their return to the Football League?
Hartlepool United rounded off the first half of their League Two season with a goalless draw at home to Oldham Athletic on New Year’s Day.
But while Graeme Lee will be frustrated to have seen his side draw a blank for the second successive game at the Suit Direct Stadium, Pools can look back on a fairly satisfactory return to the Football League so far.
And ahead of a break from league action this week as Pools compete on two cup fronts in the Papa John’s Trophy against Bolton Wanderers before an FA Cup third round tie with Blackpool, here at The Mail we take a look back at the first half of Pools’ season and deliver our half term report.
While recent results in the league may be cause for some unrest among supporters with Pools having won just one of their last nine stretching back to the end of October, Lee’s side continue to hold a fairly comfortable cushion over those in the relegation zone in League Two.
And irrespective of Pools’ bright start to the campaign the objective for the club come the end of the season is to ensure they retain their Football League status.
You only have to look at how competitive the National League is and the budgets of certain clubs in the division to know Pools may not enjoy similar success as they did last season were they to fall back into non-league. It’s imperative they remain in the Football League this year and so far they look on course to do that.
Elsewhere, while Pools’ home form has been breached this season, Lee’s side remain a match for many at the Suit Direct Stadium having taken 24 of their 28 points on home soil.
Pools lost just four times at home in 2021 and although a goalless draw with Oldham is not what many would have expected to start 2022, it maintains that aura of solidity at home.
But the highs for Pools go beyond that of statistics. They have managed to pass the eye test on a number of occasions already back in the Football League, none more so than with their stunning 3-2 victory over Harrogate Town.
Simon Weaver’s side were flying high when they arrived at the Suit Direct Stadium in October and went in at the break two goals to the good before a remarkable seven minute turnaround from Pools.
The result not only demonstrated Pools’ ability to mix it up at this level but also exhibited the unison between fans and players. Despite heading down the tunnel 2-0 behind at the break, Pools players were applauded off the field before being roared back into the game in the second half.
And that atmosphere has been another constant positive for Pools this season as supporters have been behind their team non-stop at home and with superb numbers on the road.
Pools have also been able to enjoy their efforts in the cups this season, particularly in the FA Cup, where they have claimed two League One scalps in rounds one and two against Wycombe Wanderers and Lincoln City.
Despite a positive start it hasn’t been plain sailing for Pools and the last two months have typified that following the exit of Dave Challinor.
It still seems hard to comprehend quite why Challinor made the decision to leave the Suit Direct Stadium for non-league Stockport County with Pools on the fringes of the League Two play-off places from the opening 15 games.
Nevertheless, Challinor’s exit certainly rocked the boat for Pools who have won just once in the league since his departure.
Another area of concern has been Pools’ away form.
Having claimed their first three points on the road back in October at Bradford City the hope was they could kick on and pick up more points on their travels.
Instead they have lost each of their four away games since with just four points from a possible 33 on the road.
The most disappointing of those away defeats came at Brisbane Road in Challinor’s final game in charge as Pools were heavily beaten 5-0.
All things considered it has been a reasonable first half of the campaign for Pools with a number of players giving good accounts of themselves.
Luke Molyneux is enjoying his most proficient spell with the club having featured in all but two of Pools’ games this season scoring five goals along the way.
Mark Cullen leads the goal scoring charts with six after his arrival from Port Vale in the summer and has demonstrated his ability to be clinical in the opposition penalty area.
The young talents of loan stars Matty Daly and Tyler Burey have also been encouraging, although Burey has been limited in his appearances due to injury and has now gone back to Millwall.
There is, of course, a long way still to go.
The transition from Challinor’s exit to Lee’s arrival may still be ongoing behind the scenes but for the moment Pools are not in any immediate trouble.
There will be a desire to improve the away form in the second half of the campaign even just to take some of the pressure off games at the Suit Direct Stadium, where results like those against Scunthorpe United and Oldham can happen.
The January transfer window is expected to see investment in the squad with the Pools hierarchy suggesting they are ‘very serious’ about their dealings this month which should offer encouragement for supporters.
But first and foremost, Pools could do with stringing back-to-back wins together in the league just to ease any lingering tensions.
A 50 point tally has often been mooted as the first target to try and reach this season and Pools are three points ahead of schedule.
Lee has suggested there is plenty more to come from his side but for the time being they remain on the right track.