By anyone’s standards this has been a pretty impressive start to the National League season by Hartlepool United.
Matthew Bates’ men have lost just once in their opening 10 games, are fourth in the table and unbeaten on the road.
This is in stark contrast to this time last year when Craig Harrison’s Pools were chasing their tales after a shocker of an opening month or so.
But what has been the difference this year to last?
Here’s FOUR major factors that have contributed to Pools’ rise.
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ORGANISATION AND SYSTEM
We were told Pools had a footballing identity last season, there has been no talk of such this time around.
This is very telling.
Harrison had ideals and systems and ways to play - Bates seems much more of a pragmatist.
He looked at what he had in his squad and built a system to suit it - even tweeking it when things weren’t quite working.
This system has its faults - it lacks a focal point at times with the strikers often deep and wide - but what system doesn’t.
It works for the manager, more importantly for the players and it gets results. Long may it continue.
Pools spent big last summer - don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Their budget was top eight in the division, at the time, and they finished nowhere near it.
They signed players unaccustomed to the division, who have taken time to adapt. Bates is now reaping the rewards of that with some of the Pools squad.
This time around Bates and director of football Craig Hignett bagged players who knew the level. It shows.
Liam Noble is head and shoulders above anything seen at Pools in recent years.
Andrew Davies and Luke Williams, when both are fit and available, are ready-made for the Football League.
CHARACTER AND GRIT
On and off the park Pools are a much more solid, resilient unit.
Gone seem to be the days of collapses under the slightest bit pressure.
This side has a whole lot more character than that.
Do they panic when their backs are against the wall? No. They’ve passed that test time and time again - I’ve no doubt they will again before the season is out.
STRENGTH IN DEPTH
Injury and suspension have so far been kind to Pools, but that will no always be the case.
And you get the feeling that Bates has the players ready and waiting to step in, in one of the first-teamers absence.
This was not the case last season.
Josh Hawkes and Jake Cassidy were regulars last season - they can’t get a kick this. The same goes for the likes of Conor Newton and Gateshead regular Paddy McLaughlin.
This is a squad built to stand the test of time this campaign.
They look fitter, stronger, more well drilled and organised as well as of a higher calibre.