Hartlepool United verdict: Pools changes fail to pay off as short-term fears grow
If the culmination of two week’s worth of work and regrouping was what came to fruition against Ebbsfleet then there is cause for concern at Hartlepool.
John Askey went back to the drawing board and reshuffled his pack for the visit of Dennis Kutrieb’s side who had not won in any of their previous seven games in all competitions and had won just once on their travels all season, that coming on the opening day at Rochdale.
If ever there was a fixture Hartlepool could have used to try and put things right, this ticked a lot of boxes.
And yet despite a series of changes in both personnel and in system, the same problems reared their head for Pools with Askey, undeniably, left with more questions than answers.
The rhetoric is the same: Pools can’t keep clean sheets and subsequently can’t win games. But for Askey that line will only grow thinner for as long as the malaise continues.
Hartlepool chairman Raj Singh has publicly backed Askey on more than one occasion this season, a bumper extension to his contract in August also a verified statement of intent.
And yet we are creeping into the territory which has seen managers clear their desk along Clarence Road in the past.
Paul Hartley, the man brought in to guide Pools to the next level in the Football League, was dismissed having gone nine league games without a win to start the season. Keith Curle, his replacement, was shown the door following a run of just two wins in 11 league games over the turn of the year. Before them, Graeme Lee was axed for just one league win in 12 to finish the season after a physically and emotionally exhausted side were beaten in the semi-final of the EFL Trophy. Askey has now won just two of his last 12 league games and has also lost in the FA Cup, too. It’s a major concern.
And yet there is context. There’s always context, but for Askey it may extend a little further. He was brought in to try and fire fight an inextinguishable building last season before overseeing as many as 17 first team squad members leave or return to their parent clubs in the summer – some he would have held the door for, some who would have preferred to keep.
Throw in a drop to the National League and what comes with that in terms of budget cuts and the challenges to bring players into this level, and it's been far from straightforward on the field for Askey.
But the on-field matters only scratch the surface as since the end of last season Askey has been trying to steer a ship where its captain wants, or rather feels pushed, off-board.
As much as Askey has dismissed the notion about Hartlepool being up for sale not being a distraction, the noise has only grown louder in recent weeks, particularly the two preceding this fixture with Ebbsfleet.
Chairman Singh clarified that no interested parties have been able to provide proof of funds with regards to purchasing the club before inviting an open dialogue with the club’s Supporters Trust to seek immediate options available, with the Trust declaring Singh ‘stated that he will only fund the club in the short-term and was open about the cost of continuing to the end of the season, then cash-flow moving forward.’
Irrespective of the difference between the boardroom and the playing side of a club, situations such as this simply cannot help, for how long is the short-term?
Is that short-term next week? Is that short-term until the end of the year? Is that short-term until the end of the season? And what happens then?
It all may be hyperbole but the uncertainty is there and when you add that to a team, and a club, entrenched in negativity over the course of the last 12 months or more, that is a difficult mindset to shift.
That cloud is going to hang around Hartlepool for the aforementioned short-term. Within that time Askey, somehow, needs to find a way to improve the output he is getting on the pitch, sooner rather than later. And while this isn’t a defeat we are dissecting, the level of performance left plenty to be desired.
Askey and his staff have routinely called upon the need for players to embrace the pressure that comes with playing for Hartlepool, particularly at this level, and yet at the moment everything just feels a little empty; in the stands, on the field, around the ground.
“We’re a football club at a level where there’s going to be pressure on every game, that’s the nature of football and where we currently find ourselves,” first team coach Antony Sweeney said recently.
“You’d much rather play for a club where there’s an expectation than where there is no expectation because there’s no real drive and determination.
“We have a lot of fans at home, we travel in numbers, and they’re expecting of a performance, and rightly so. They pay their hard earned money to go and do that. That’s a privilege to have that.
“There’s hundreds of footballers down the pyramid that would love to have that type of support and pressure. So we’ve got to thrive off it.”
Yet thriving is the opposite of what we’re seeing from the football club at this moment in time. The break provided an opportunity to reset things ahead of a potentially favourable run of fixtures against four of the league’s bottom six heading into December. They may already have burned their best opportunity of victory against Ebbsfleet with the games against York, Kidderminster and Fylde all coming away from home.
Things need to change for Hartlepool in both the long and the short-term, but it’s that short-term which may be preventing things from changing.