Hartlepool United president Jeff Stelling wants caretaker Antony Sweeney to be given a fair chance as search continues for new manager

Jeff Stelling believes caretaker Antony Sweeney could make the appointment of Hartlepool United’s next permanent manager ‘really difficult’ for the club.

Thursday, 24th October 2019, 7:16 pm
Jeff Stelling with Hartlepool United chairman Raj Singh.

While the Pools club president was not in favour of the sacking of Craig Hignett as manager earlier this month, he has been impressed with the impact Sweeney has made since taking over on a temporary basis.

Sweeney – who made 444 appearances for Hartlepool between 2001 and 2014 – has enjoyed a perfect start as caretaker with a 3-0 win at Aldershot Town followed up by a narrow 1-0 win over Brackley Town in the FA Cup fourth qualifying round last Saturday.

Those results have relieved some of the pressure on Pools to act quickly in making an appointment. They have the luxury of time, but they need to make it count.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Hartlepool United caretaker manager, Antony Sweeney prior to the Vanarama National League match between Aldershot Town and Hartlepool United at the EBB Stadium, Aldershot on Saturday 12th October 2019. (Credit: Paul Paxford | MI News)

Around 50 applicants for the manager’s position are thought to have sparked Pools’ interest. Chairman Raj Singh and chief executive Mark Maguire are currently in the process of narrowing down the candidates having conducted initial interviews this week.

The next appointment will be Hartlepool’s fifth permanent manager since they were relegated to the National League in 2017.

Their goal will be clear – to get the club back to the Football League.

But that will require patience, longevity and consistency, three things Pools have been guilty of lacking in recent years.

Hartlepool United and Brackley Town at Victoria Park, Hartlepool on Saturday 19th October 2019. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

The club have been refreshingly diligent in their approach to finding Hignett’s replacement as expectations build. Only time will tell if Pools’ next manager is the right person for the job.

And Stelling won’t be pre-judging any appointment based on past reputation or experience as he pointed to the only current Premier League manager to have led a team to promotion from the fifth tier as a prime example why.

“There are plenty of managers out there who you wouldn’t expect to be first choice or haven’t been massively successful but have gone on to be just that,” Stelling told the Hartlepool Mail.

“Look at someone like Chris Wilder, who started at the bottom of the tree. I don’t think anyone would have thought at the time, ‘wow, Chris Wilder, what a great appointment that is for us!’

Hartlepool United caretaker manager, Antony Sweeney congratulates Michael Raynes of Hartlepool United during the Vanarama National League match between Aldershot Town and Hartlepool United at the EBB Stadium, Aldershot on Saturday 12th October 2019. (Credit: Paul Paxford | MI News)

“But look where he is now and what he’s done with every team that he’s been at.”

Wilder won promotion from the National League back in 2010 with Oxford United – nine years on and he’s managing Sheffield United to a 1-0 win over Arsenal in the Premier League.

Another manager like the Blades boss will be out there but Pools will have to look at those with potential and on the way up in their career, not the other way around.

As long as Sweeney remains caretaker, he will be a candidate for the job and it’s hard to criticise his performance so far.

In addition to the wins over Aldershot and Brackley, he has helped Pools’ youth team to a 6-0 FA Youth Cup win at Stockport as well as a 4-2 Durham Challenge Cup victory against holders Shildon.

The last three matches Sweeney has been in the dugout for have been must win knockout matches and he’s got through them with flying colours. But there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

Appointing Sweeney could be premature, but Stelling still wants the former Hartlepool midfielder to be given a fair crack of the whip.

“Sometimes you just need to get lucky, maybe we’ve got lucky with Sweens,” he added.

“Maybe he’s got that sprinkling of magic dust, I don’t know. But what we need to do is give him the time to find out.

“If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work but I’m certain that whatever happens, he’ll still be involved at the club and we’ll still look at him as being one for the future if not one for the present.

“I just hope he continues to do brilliantly and make the decision really, really difficult. He fits the bill, he’s got a history at the club which I think fits the profile as well.”

The club has been drawing up a managerial blueprint of sorts over the past couple of weeks as they’ve looked at the credentials of previous promotion winning managers.

But it’s Sweeney who remains in charge for the moment as he prepares the side for Saturday’s match at home to Barnet.

Questions may be raised over the 36-year-old’s age and lack of experience in senior management. Though when looking at the current National League table – three of the top four teams have managers who are under 38 that have limited experience managing at this level.

It’s not what you’ve done previously that matters, it’s what you’re capable of doing now.

“Sometimes, someone new comes in with fresh ideas,” Stelling continued.

“From what I gather, I know that the club has been really impressed with Tony’s preparation in the two games so far.

“Even though the performance wasn’t great on Saturday, the preparation that he put into it has provided a deep dive into the opposition so we knew everything about them and how to approach it and he’s got the result.

“He’s dealt with everything brilliantly but the club is determined to make the right decision and much of that will depend on the calibre of the other candidates.”