Hartlepool United retained list verdict: Plenty of work for Dave Challinor and Pools with securing new deals crucial to League Two success

Hartlepool United’s squad for the upcoming League Two season is yet to take shape following the confirmation of the club’s retained list.

Wednesday, 30th June 2021, 4:45 pm

Pools have eight players contracted for the 2021-22 campaign, five weeks ahead of the big kick-off.

Of those eight, only four played a significant on field role in the club’s promotion.

Six players have also been offered new contracts at Victoria Park while a further two remain in discussions.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Mark Shelton lifts the National League promotion final trophy.
Mark Shelton lifts the National League promotion final trophy.

In total, five players have been released by the club with one already agreeing to join another club.

Here is a full breakdown and analysis of Pools’ retained list...

Retained

Having David Ferguson and Gavan Holohan secured is a boost for giving Dave Challinor a base to build from.

Players of Hartlepool United celebrate following the Vanarama National League Play-Off Final match between Hartlepool United and Torquay United at Ashton Gate on June 20, 2021 in Bristol, England. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Both played key roles in the promotion campaign and you’d be confident of them making the step-up into League Two.

Despite a slow start to the season, Mark Shelton emerged as one of Hartlepool’s top performers as they surged into the promotion picture. Triggering an extension for the midfielder was a no brainer and he has unfinished business in League Two having been loaned out by Salford City following their promotion.

Timi Odusina will be back at Pools this coming season having made 32 appearances last campaign. The former Norwich City youngster’s form was fairly inconsistent over the regular season with some fine defensive displays countered by costly mistakes.

But in Lewis Cass’ absence, the young centre-back stepped up to the mark in the play-off matches and was arguably the side’s top performer in the three victories that ultimately saw Pools promoted.

Ryan Donaldson with the promotion final trophy.

At 21, he still has plenty to learn and should only improve.

The remaining contracted players are unlikely to play key first term roles in 2021-22.

Josh MacDonald didn’t play a minute of National League football last term and has been transfer listed. Brad Young is set to join Premier League side Leicester City while midfielder Tom Crawford is likely to remain part of Challinor’s plans as a squad player.

18-year-old forward Joe Grey is also attracting interest from a number of under-23s set-ups after a few eye-catching displays last season. His campaign was ultimately cut short due to a back injury but he remains contracted at Victoria Park.

Hartlepool United's play-off final win.

New deals

If you were to hand pick five of Pools’ most important contracted players last season, few would have argued against Gary Liddle, Nicky Featherstone, Rhys Oates, Jamie Sterry and Ben Killip.

All are free to leave at the end of the month but have been offered new deals at Victoria Park, along with winger Luke Molyneux.

The Mail understands the terms offered to some players are fairly consistent with their deals in the National League despite their potential importance in the upcoming season.

The club need to do everything they can to keep hold of them.

Even at 35, Liddle would still have plenty to offer at the back alongside the comparatively inexperienced Odusina.

Challinor already has two thirds of his midfield ‘wolf pack’ tied down, so securing the final and arguably most influential third in Featherstone is crucial.

The 32-year-old has spent the past seven years at Pools and was determined to get the club back to the Football League. Will he leave on a high now his business is done or will he commit to a campaign back in the EFL?

Top scorer Oates fired the club top promotion with crucial play-off goals against Bromley and Stockport County. As expected, there is strong interest from elsewhere and it’s unlikely Pools will be able to compete financially with clubs when it comes to a new contract.

Sterry is another one attracting plenty of interest that Pools will struggle to compete with. The former Newcastle United defender enjoyed the best season of his career at Victoria Park and could be persuaded to commit to another season now the club are back in the EFL.

Goalkeeper Ben Killip experienced a much improved season last time out despite it being cut short by injury. There is Football League, National League and SPL interest in the England C international, who is believed to favour a return south.

Molyneux is an interesting one. When he signed permanently for Pools two years ago, many would have expected him to be one of the main driving forces behind a promotion campaign.

For a number of reasons, he’s been a bit part player but has still shown enough to be offered a new deal.

A couple of League Two and several National League sides, including Torquay United, are interested in signing Molyneux with The Gulls already tabling an offer.

Zaine Francis-Angol and Ryan Donaldson are also in discussions. Francis-Angol proved to be a useful back-up to Ferguson at left-back and could be a smart signing should he be willing to continue that role.

Captain Donaldson hasn’t had the best of seasons and is unlikely to be a regular starter in the EFL. But his versatility and professionalism is something that has always appealed to Challinor.

Released

No surprises here. Mason Bloomfield and Claudio Ofosu looked promising in pre-season but ultimately failed to deliver consistently on the National League stage and ended the campaign on furlough.

Striker Danny Elliott made a decent impact during his short stint at the club but was always likely to leave following his short term deal.

Aaron Cunningham and Luke Williams also see their injury-hit spells end. Two good talents that the club weren’t willing to take another risk on.

Both just need a consistent run of matches at a lower level.

One disappointing departure was that of Ryan Johnson, who had already agreed to sign for Pools’ League Two rivals Port Vale. The fact The Valiants were able to comfortably outgun Hartlepool financially shows exactly what they’re up against this season when it comes to recruitment.

It could be a tough summer for Pools but the foundations are almost in place if they act quickly.

A message from the Football Clubs Editor

Our aim is to provide you with the best, most up-to-date and most informative Hartlepool United coverage 365 days a year.

This depth of coverage costs, so to help us maintain the high-quality reporting that you are used to, please consider taking out a subscription to our new sports-only package here.

Your support is much appreciated. Richard Mennear, Football Clubs Editor