Craig Harrison on his Hartlepool gameplan – and why it can change

Nicky Deverdics.
Nicky Deverdics.

Craig Harrison is a footballing idealist.

The Hartlepool United boss wants his team to play the beautiful game the ‘right’ way, keeping the ball on the deck and the opposition chasing shadows.

But life in the National League has taught him that being a pragmatist can be just as valuable.

Pools opened up their season by failing to win any of their opening six fifth tier matches.

And while they kept to the football ideals of their manager, and many of the players, there are no awards given for the side who look good losing.

In fact, it was hard to argue Pools deserved even that much credit, while they tried to play it around, they were nullified by more street-wise, much less illustrious opponents, the likes of Dover Athletic, Maidenhead United, Bromley et al.

Fylde’s visit to Victoria Park was a real line in the sand moment for Harrison & Co.

Realising that were they not to change their approach sharpish, any hope of bouncing back to the Football League at the first attempt was evaporating week by week.

“Everyone has got a gameplan in football,” explained Harrison ahead of today’s televised clash with Leyton Orient.

“But the key is fitting it around the players, their positives, what they do well, what they don’t do so well etc.

“The most important thing about any football club is the players – they need to be at comfortable with that gameplan.

“You forge a system around the players that you have. If you try to do it the other way you are fitting square pegs in round holes.”

While the manager knows no team can have too many square pegs, the odd one can sometimes produce the unexpected.

One player who has done just that is Nicky Deverdics.

The attacking midfielder has, in recent weeks, been asked to fill in at left-back, much like he did on a temporary basis during the disastrous Dave Jones era.

Deverdics, along with the performances of Lewis Hawkins and Michael Woods, has given Harrison much to be positive about.

“Woodsy and Hawks have been key, two very fit lads who want to work hard who give us a real presence in midfield in terms of closing the opposition down,” said the former TNS boss.

“Behind them we have Nicky, who is a very good technical footballer but also who has won more headers and tackles than for a long time – a job he’s not familiar with and he’s been as fit as he has for a long time.

“Those three have been key.”

Deverdics has played a key role in a back four who have learned, after a ropey opening few weeks, how to shut the door to the opposition.

Harrison says there has been no change in defensive mentality, the only difference being that stupid mistakes and lapses in concentration have become a thing of the past.

“It doesn’t feel any different,” he said.

“We didn’t come in at half-time in any game and say same again until the Guiseley game. Before that it was always reactive.

“We had a gameplan to start with but when that goes out the window we had to react.

“Now we are able to settle. It is nice not to think about what we are going to have to do when we are a goal behind.”