Hartlepool players buzzing after release of fixtures, says Matthew Bates

Matthew Bates
Matthew Bates

Matthew Bates says there is a buzz around the Hartlepool United squad after the release of the club's fixtures.

The 2018/19 National League schedule was unveiled yesterday with Pools travelling to Maidstone on the opening day of the campaign.

FULL POOLS FIXTURE LIST

The season kicks off on August 4, so with just a month to go, manager Bates knows the squad must step up their fitness preparations.

Pools travel to Billingham Town on Saturday for their first pre-season friendly, but it is the release of the proper fixtures that has got the squad talking.

"It’s always exciting when you see the schedule for the first time and it’s another marker along the way in pre-season towards the big kick-off," said Bates.

"All the lads have been interested to know who we’re playing on the opening day, where we’re at over Christmas and where we end the season so there’s a buzz around the training ground and the anticipation for the new campaign just went up a notch.

"Ideally you want to kick-off on home soil but we’ve been handed a trip to Maidstone United where we made some good memories last season.

"We got a good win there during a difficult period but I have to say I was quite impressed with Maidstone so it will be a tough start for us down there, I’ve no doubt about that."

Pools beat Maidstone 2-1 back in March thanks to a Michael Woods brace which helped them stave off the threat of relegation from the National League.

Salford City are among the favourites for promotion this term, but Bates says the National League is too hard to predict, especially with teams playing 14 league games inside the first two months.

It's a hectic start that could shape the season for most teams.

Bates added: "It’s obviously difficult to know how things will pan out, I don’t think many would have tipped Macclesfield Town to win the league at the point the fixtures came out last summer so it’s going to be interesting to see how it develops.

"I don’t tend to look at the league table until there are at least 10 games gone and it’s starting to take shape.

"Of course, that point will come quite quickly this season with 14 games being played in the first couple of months so it’s going to be a very busy opening period to the campaign."

After starting at Maidstone, Pools' first game at Victoria Park will be against newly-promoted Harrogate Town on Tuesday, August 7. Ambitious Harrogate were promoted from the Conference North last season.

As they did last season, Pools will travel to Gateshead on Boxing Day, before hosting their neighbours in the return fixture on New Year's Day at the Vic.

Other games that catch the eye are the long trip to Dover Athletic on November 24, while the game at Barrow on Easter Monday, April 22, is scheduled as the last away match of the season, customary for Poolies to don fancy dress.

They then finish the season the following Saturday at home against high-profile Salford.