Hartlepool United v Crawley Town: Dave Challinor's big preview of League Two opener
Dave Challinor believes Hartlepool United’s return to League Two against Crawley Town on Saturday afternoon (3pm kick-off) could prove to be a ‘very special day’ for those connected with the club.
Challinor helped orchestrate Pools’ dramatic promotion back to the Football League last season and is looking to keep the momentum building in what is his first taste of EFL management.
Hartlepool haven’t played at Victoria Park since their 3-2 play-off eliminator victory over Bromley back in June. The pitch has since undergone plenty of work to be ready for the new Football League season.
Pools’ pre-season has been a disjointed one with all matches being played away from home against non-league opposition. The friendly results have also done little to whet the appetite of supporters with two wins and three defeats over the past month.
But with the competitive season about to get under way, there’s plenty to be excited about with Victoria Park set to operate with an unrestricted capacity for the first time since March 2020.
“We’re raring to go absolutely,” Challinor told The Mail. “Once you get to the end of pre-season and the end of the transfer window at the end of the month, once that passes, the bridge that was there isn’t there any more and you’ve got to deal with what you’ve got.
"There was always going to be a point where this day came and it’s great that we’re at home, the pitch looks great, off the pitch doesn’t look so great but there is a lot of work being done by someone else thankfully!
"We’ll get there and Saturday has the potential of being a very special day.
"The supporters need to enjoy and embrace it because it’s a brilliant situation and we’re back as a Football League club which is the minimum the club and the supporters deserve to be at.
"For some it will be the first time they’re back in the ground for pushing two years and for them to be back watching a Football League club is something they’ve got to enjoy and we’ll do what we can to make sure that’s the case.”
After a hectic turnaround in pre-season, Challinor isn’t feeling any pre-match nerves just yet.
“There hasn’t been enough time to be nervous to be honest,” he added. “Undoubtedly before the opening game there is going to be an anticipation and for me there is an expectancy and desire to witness the players we have stepping up to show they can do it.
"There is an intrigue around what is going to happen and I hope the intrigue is followed by happiness and satisfaction that even the players that we retained from last year are able to cope with league football and make the step up.”
Pools will open their campaign against a Crawley side who finished 12th in League Two last season. They then host League One outfit Crewe Alexandra in the first round of the Carabao Cup on Tuesday evening (7pm kick-off) before making the journey to Barrow the following Saturday (3pm kick-off).
But they haven’t had a lot of time to prepare for life back in the Football League with a shortened pre-season and next to no time off.
“Crawley will undoubtedly provide a tough test for us as will every game this season but it’s the same thing as I said in the National League,” Challinor continued.
“The thing at the start of the season is you go into it a little bit less prepared because you don’t have many games to go off and personnel can change quite a bit during pre-season.
"You can have ideas but what we’ve seen of Crawley is minimal and the information we’ll be giving players is probably less than what you will later in the season.
"You have to trust in the players’ abilities to make good decisions on the pitch and get answers on the pitch.
"We can help from the side and what we think will happen but the reality of what happens on a Saturday can be very different so it’s important our players are able to recognise the way to win the game and open the opposition up. Hopefully that will be the case.
"It goes without saying that with the short turnaround, if we’d have been going in with a completely different squad, it takes time to get your philosophies and ideas through to players and the main part of pre-season is getting people up to speed which involves different things physically.
"The tactical aspects need to be worked on within that but they take time.
"Being out on a training pitch and whether it be hours of practising set-pieces, patterns of play or being in and out of possession against different systems and what we want.
“It takes time and if you’ve got a new group it takes even more time so to have the input of players who we worked with last year will undoubtedly help and it means we’re giving information to less players.
"The consequences we’ve had from the late finish and the quick turnaround and the result of really good circumstances.
"It’s been manic but we wouldn’t change that and it will probably stay manic for the next month or so. Once we get to August 31 there’s nothing more we can do so at that point we may be able to relax a little bit more but the hard work will continue.
"The difference now is the hard work will continue while three points and progression in the cups, prize money are on offer.”