Hartlepool United left-back Mark Kitching impressing despite difficult start to the National League season
It’s been a tough start to the season for Hartlepool United but some players have still been able to impress.
One of those is left-back Mark Kitching, who is proving to be something of a surprise package after failing to start in the opening two National League games against Sutton United and Halifax Town.
The 23-year-old also played a bit-part role in pre-season, featuring in the first three games against Northern League opposition before being limited to just one substitute appearance against Sheffield United under-23s in the four public matches that followed.
The boyhood Middlesbrough fan had to watch Pools from the stands at Victoria Park as the home side were soundly beaten 4-0 by their Championship neighbours.
Kitching’s limited game time in pre-season was partly down to a minor back injury. But with Poolies crying out for a new left-back, Kitching’s role in the upcoming season started to become somewhat uncertain.
The left-back position has been much discussed this summer and it continues to be a big talking point in the side though for significantly different reasons than before.
The introduction of Romoney Crichlow-Noble on a season-long loan from Hudderfield Town would provide that as the 20-year-old started the opening two league games of the season. Suggesting Kitching would likely be limited to a back-up or rotation option in the side.
Crichlow-Noble, like many Pools players, struggled against Sutton on his competitive debut at The Vic before putting in a much improved display at Halifax despite both games ending in defeat.
Tragic personal circumstances prevented the young defender from playing in the following game at Maidenhead United and he’s been an unused substitute in the two games since.
Crichlow-Noble travelled down with the Pools squad and took part in the pre-match warm-up at York Road despite hearing of the death of his mother less than 24-hours earlier. The strength and determination shown by the player to focus on his club duties in such horrible circumstances deserves enormous credit.
The support he has since received from those connected with Hartlepool United has also been truly heartwarming with around £18,000 being raised via Go Fund Me.
It’s players like Crichlow-Noble and Kitching, who himself suffered the loss of his father over the summer, that deserve a lot of the early season plaudits and support from understandably frustrated Poolies.
Kitching has started the last three matches and barely put a foot wrong as he helped keep a clean sheet at Maidenhead before assisting Gime Toure’s opener in the 2-2 draw against AFC Fylde.
While the majority of the United squad have struggled for consistency, the former Boro and Rochdale youngster’s performances have been encouraging considering his place in the side came under such scrutiny over the summer.
Kitching has proven to be an attacking threat while also being defensively astute for the most part. The full-back has his limitations like most players at this level but judging purely off his three starts so far, he is proving to be one of the few stand-out players in an otherwise under-performing Pools squad.
And the Hartlepool defender admitted he's approached the new season with a new-found confidence.
“I’ve come back this season and I feel a lot more confident when I’m playing,” Kitching revealed.
“I feel a lot more attacking and I was obviously happy with the assist last Tuesday but Gime [Toure] scored a great goal and he’s been a massive asset to us so far with his running and his pace and power.
“It’s just about me and other players giving the ball to him and letting him try and create because in training he scores goals like that all the time.
“I’m feeling good, feeling fit. I was disappointed not to play the first two games but I think I’ve come in and I’m raring to go because we’ve got a lot of good players in our team.
“It’s more of a chance for us with all the injuries. We’ve got some good players still to come back so as long as we keep picking up points so that when those players come back we’ll have a really good attacking squad who are ready to really push on.
“We’ve got Rom to come back in left-back as well so everyone is fighting for the shirts. Every game is a test and you have to play well to stay in the team.”
Kitching joined Hartlepool from League One side Rochdale last summer and went on to score twice in 45 appearances in all competition last season.
And speaking of his targets for this season, the 6ft 2 defender commented: “I think I’ve started okay but it’s just about building on that now, you can’t look back at games especially this early on in the season.
“I set targets for myself over the course of the season with assists and things like that. Obviously last year I chipped in with two goals so I’m just looking to get as many assists and as many clean sheets in as many games as I can.
“I’m just looking to have a good successful season for the club which will hopefully see us get into the play-offs and promoted.”