An enigma, a riddle, a mystery - the puzzle Mick Wadsworth will never solve

Mick Wadsworth during the closing stages of the game. Picture by FRANK REID
Mick Wadsworth during the closing stages of the game. Picture by FRANK REID
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“IT is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

That will be the lasting quote of Mick Wadsworth’s Victoria Park tenure.

It will also be the one to which he will never unearth an answer.

The puzzle in question – Pools’ cataclysmic home form – proved a conundrum too far for Wadsworth, and indeed his employers.

For there is just one reason behind yesterday’s exit, and that is the unwanted etching of the latest entry into the club’s history books – seven defeats on the spin at the Vic.

Painfully paralleled with that ruinous run was a 10-and-a-half-hour period with just one goal scored, and that an 89th-minute consolation penalty.

While the fans had sloped away in near silence following the 1-0 defeat to Preston North End just over a week ago, there were rumblings of discontent at boardroom level.

The chairman’s programme notes – as much as the club later protested otherwise – were damning.

The decision had been made – Wadsworth was to go.

But now, with the separation having been exacted to the manager’s complete surprise, is a time for reflection – for what happens next can wait until tomorrow.

Was it the right decision, then, to remove a man who, just over a month ago, had been bestowed with the moniker “In Wad We Trust” by the club’s evidently enraptured supporters.

Opinion, it appears, is split.

There are those who focus on the micro picture – that sorry septet of home defeats – and those who point to the bigger picture – five points from the play-offs and clear of those murky, relegation-threatened waters of yesteryear.

To take stock of both standpoints leaves the observer perched on the proverbial fence.

Wadsworth’s reign was punctuated by a perpetual cycle of highs and lows, only this latest dip proved far too devastating from which to recover.

What was it Paul Murray – the most honest and abrasive talker among Pools’ number – once said?

“Most players are in League One not because they’re not good players – it’s just they’re brilliant one week but rubbish the next”.

And therein lies the problem - the problem that is which led to Wadsworth’s use of Sir Winston Churchill’s quote in relation to his side’s mystifying home slump.

But, for Wadsworth, the key factor was the chronological coming of those contrasting fortunes.

Rewind to October 1.

Word had reached Scandinavia – via Victoria Park and the Aberdeen base of IOR – that Berge Larsen’s unfashionable Hartlepool were making headlines in the north-east of England.

The Norwegians were coming.

A delegation, including club owner Larsen, jetted in, first enjoying the most relaxed of kickabouts on the Vic – with Wadsworth a jovial participant – before settling down for the top-of-the-table clash with the illustrious Sheffield Wednesday.

And so, to coin a cliché, began the end.

Defeated narrowly by the Owls, the previously-unbeaten Pools were to lose seven of their next 10.

Included in that run was the abject showing at Notts County, a live Sky TV game which, on a weekend of no top-flight fixtures, was beamed far wider than Norton and even Norway.

The wretched run ultimately triggered Larsen’s return, only this time he would have journeyed in far less optimistic mood.

He was present as Pools were again beaten by a single goal last Tuesday, this time to Preston North End, a team so hopelessly out of form that this was their first success in 13 attempts.

It proved to be Wadsworth’s final game at the helm.

His problem, then, had been expectation.

Having previously been reticent to entertain talk of specific pre-season targets, entering October Wadsworth had welcomed, and in fact encouraged, mention of the play-offs.

And why not?

His team, carefully supplemented with a blend of youth and experience over the summer, had been the division’s surprise package.

They had flirted with the automatic-promotion places, scribed their name in the history books following an unbeaten start, humbled better-fancied sides and, with the undoubted help of the £100 season-ticket initiative, brought the punters pouring into the Vic.

Indeed, on what proved to be that ill-fated, sun-soaked afternoon of October 1, 6,800 – including the owner and his Nordic comrades – had crammed inside the most expectant and excited of football grounds.

Fast forward now to November 29, and the equally ill-fated visit of Preston.

The gate had tumbled by 2,500.

Chief executive Russ Green voiced his economic concerns – understandable ones – on the very next programme page from which Ken Hodcroft had hinted Wadsworth’s position could be under threat.

The writing wasn’t on the wall – it was in the matchday publication, there for all to see.

Wadsworth, though, didn’t see it, blinded by the belief in his men and the comfort of their mid-table standing.

And so it was with complete shock, and most probably resentment and rage, that yesterday’s news was delivered.

For Wadsworth was, and is, a good man.

A man who retains the support of most of his former players, for there will always be some dissenting voices.

They, though, must be questioning could they have done more to keep their manager in employment.

They’re a nice, honest bunch at Pools – perhaps too nice at times – but it must be said they’ve come up short on the pitch in recent weeks, and it is results which have cost Wadsworth dear.

Once the shock subsides, he will no doubt ponder all of the above and wonder what, if anything, he could have done differently.

Sadly, for Wadsworth, it’s too late to crack the conundrum.

To him, those words shall linger – a riddle, a mystery, an enigma.