It’s hard to accept a dream is over for another year.
But being realistic Hartlepool United must accept they are not going to be involved in the National League promotion race, however their positive start to the campaign.
It may only be February, but Pools are eight spots and 11 points off those in the top seven - by anyone’s calculations that’s a step or three too far.
By the same token a gap of nine points to those in the bottom four of the division means it’s highly unlikely the team will be dragged into a relegation battle, much like they were this time last season.
As things stand, Pools and new manager Craig Hignett find themselves in National League no man’s land.
But that isn’t necessarily as negative as the term suggests.
Yes, it is not where Pools want to be, but at least they are pretty secure in their fifth tier status, which is not something that could said for the last four months of 2017/18.
And what Hignett has an opportunity to do now, is plan, and plan properly well in advance, for a promotion drive next season.
He states he is not dealing with next season’s decisions now in public, but privately he must already be making his mind up on a number of calls which could shape Pools’ immediate future.
Not every team gets out of this division quickly, but Leyton Orient look like proof it can be done with the right tools.
Here’s our writer Liam Kennedy’s take on the FIVE decisions that could go some way to making or breaking what could yet again prove, the most important in recent history.
Hartlepool have a number of key players out of contract this summer.
Included on that list is ever-present Scott Loach, current captain Ryan Donaldson and top-scorer Liam Noble.
A number of others, including the likes of Nicky Featherstone, Carl Magnay and Conor Newton are also believed to only have deals running to June.
Who stays and who goes is a massive call for Hignett. And I get the feeling he’s a man who is in the mood for change.
STICK OR TWIST
Pools have four players currently on loan. What they must decide is whether any, or all, of these deals can be made permanent.
While the contractual situation of Danny Amos at Doncaster is yet unknown, he sounds like a player who may have a future with the League One outfit. This might be the deal that does not get the permanent seal.
The other trio are all ones that have a decent chance, provided the stars aline.
Luke Molyneux is a north east lad, but his talent might alert a league club or two which could make it hard.
Nicke Kabamba is a striker desperate to prove his worth to Pools and keen to remain a full-time footballer having been bitten by the bug at Portsmouth. The one concern with the forward would be if a move to a club further south crops up.
And finally, Michael Raynes. This to me is nailed on to get done. It’s a deal that just fits.
REBUILDING THE NORTH EAST BOND
One thing Richard Money was brought to the club to help with was rebuilding the relationships between Pools and the north east’s big three - Newcastle United, Sunderland and near neighbours Middlesbrough.
For a club of Pools’ size this is essential.
A summer cannot pass where the clubs’ best go to the likes of Gateshead. Pools have to put themselves at the front of the queue.
PLUGGING THE GAPS
Finances are key to this.
The funding received by Pools is set to take a massive hit this summer and that will have a knock on impact on the club’s infrastructure.
The academy will be hardest hit.
The importance of having a pathway for kids has been proven with the emergence of the likes of Josh Hawkes among others.
This funding gap is one that must be plugged.
RECRUIT RIGHT Hignett has contacts and he knows how to strike a deal. That’s exactly why he was perfectly suited to his previous director of football role.
Pools’ recruitment last summer was solid. It needs to be that, and then some this summer.
Hignett could have a massive rebuild on his hands but it sounds like a challenge he will relish, with some high-profile targets on a lengthy wishlist already. Another exciting summer awaits.