Hartlepool United promotion-winner Ben Clark admits he was a "bit surprised" by the controversial decision not to offer former teammate Kevin Phillips a new contract

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Hartlepool United promotion-winner Ben Clark admits he was a "bit surprised" when Pools opted not to offer his former Sunderland teammate Kevin Phillips a new contract.

Clark was coming through the ranks at the Black Cats while Phillips was in his pomp and the pair shared the same dressing room at the Stadium of Light after the former Pools defender broke into the first team squad.

Clark spent five years on Wearside after signing as a trainee in 1999, the same year as Phillips received his maiden international call-up.

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Less than 12 months after Clark's arrival, Phillips became the first Englishman to win the European Golden Shoe after bagging 30 Premier League goals in a single season.

The controversial decision not to offer manager Kevin Phillips a new deal divided fans.The controversial decision not to offer manager Kevin Phillips a new deal divided fans.
The controversial decision not to offer manager Kevin Phillips a new deal divided fans.

Clark left Sunderland after 14 first team appearances and went on to become a Hartlepool stalwart and Gateshead legend, winning promotion with Pools in 2007.

Both men moved into coaching after retiring from playing, with Clark taking caretaker charge of Gateshead on two separate occasions and Phillips enjoying a promising start to life in management, leading South Shields to promotion and impressing with Pools.

Given his relative success at the Suit Direct Stadium - Phillips won four of his first five matches, steered Pools clear of the drop and met the 60 point target he was rumoured to have been set - it was something of a surprise when the club chose not to renew his deal.

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Instead, Pools appointed former Stevenage, Yeovil and Woking boss Darren Sarll, with Phillips publicly accusing the club of having withdrawn an offer of a two-year contract.

And, like a fair chunk of the Pools fanbase, Clark admitted he was caught unawares by the controversial decision but insisted he was optimistic about Sarll's chances of success.

"I was a bit surprised," he said.

"I was coming through at Sunderland when he (Phillips) was there. What a player he was, just incredible.

"I think, in general, he did a good job at Pools.

"The obvious one is the Gateshead defeat but, to be fair, he got a reaction out of the players and did what the club wanted him to do.

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"I was a bit surprised but that's football, nothing is too surprising.

"If the chairman wants to go in a different direction, then that's his decision.

"He (Sarll) is a bit more experienced, he has his own way of playing and has a good record in the National League.

"He's got that know-how and he's got a lot of drive and determination, that desire to win.

"Let's hope Pools can have a successful season and get back to where they belong."

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