SIX games that shaped Hartlepool United’s first season in National League

Rhys Oates back-heels Hartlepool United's second goal against Tranmere Rovers in the final League game of the season.
Rhys Oates back-heels Hartlepool United's second goal against Tranmere Rovers in the final League game of the season.

It’s a campaign that won’t feature in any ‘Best Of’ lists for Hartlepool United fans.

The club’s first ever season in non-league was a real rollercoaster, with Pools eventually battling against another relegation after struggling for consistency.

Survival was eventually ensured and – in among some abject displays – there were some standout performances which will give the Victoria Park faithful plenty of optimism going forward.

There were plenty of defining moments, with Pools squandering points making far too familiar mistakes throughout the campaign.

We’ve picked out six key games that helped to shape Pools’ first season in the National League – and a couple that may well shape their future:

Maidenhead 2-1 Hartlepool (August 12, 2017)

Having failed to register a victory in their opening two National League games, a trip to newly-promoted Maidenhead looked an ideal opportunity to pick up three points.

But it turned out to be one of Pools’ poorest performances of the season, and served as a harsh reminder of the level the club now found themselves playing at.

The hosts were dominant and a brace from Dave Tarpey – who netted either side of half-time – put them in control.

Padraig Amond’s late penalty made the scoreline look slightly more respectable, and Pools should have been glad that Maidenhead’s margin of victory wasn’t greater.

It was a sobering defeat, and one which emphasised the uphill battle Hartlepool faced.

Hartlepool 4-0 Halifax (November 21, 2017)

This game should have been a turning point. A chance for Pools to kick-on.

It was one of the best performances of the Craig Harrison era and looked to have picked the side up after a slow start to the season.

Goals from Nicky Deverdics, Liam Donnelly, Rhys Oates and Conor Newton handed Hartlepool a commanding victory over the Shaymen in front of an emphatic home crowd.

But this wasn’t a catalyst for a climb up the table as many hoped. Instead, Pools went on a 11-game winless run which stretched into February and plunged them into relegation trouble.

Next season, such opportunities to push on must be taken.

Hartlepool 1-2 Macclesfield (December 2, 2017)

An early defeat in the long winless run was this one against the eventual champions who, in truth, didn’t look streaks ahead of Pools.

It says a lot about the National League that Macclesfield, who ended up winning the league at a canter, were not vastly better than a Pools side who flirted with relegation.

That should serve as hope for Pools next season. They probably aren’t a million miles away.

Conceding late goals came back to haunt Hartlepool in this game – as it would do for much of the season.

Michael Woods’ 39th minute strike looked to have wrapped up the three points, but Harrison’s side went on to concede two in the final five minutes.

It wasn’t the first or the last time Pools were vulnerable late on, and such late lapses must be avoided next season.

Barrow 1-2 Hartlepool (March 21, 2018)

After another poor run of form, the trip to relegation rivals Barrow was make-or-break for Pools.

And the players stepped up to the mark, battling back from a goal down to seal a vital victory in a cagey affair in the North West.

The game will undoubtedly be remembered for Carl Magnay’s fine strike, but also shows that Pools were willing to battle and grind out results.

Ex-Poolie Luke James had handed the hosts the lead, Newton equalised on the stroke of half-time before Magnay’s rocket sealed the win.

Some fine rearguard action was displayed in the dying minutes as Barrow pushed forward, and this was likely one of Pools’ better defensive displays as they battled until the end.

Such fighting qualities will be essential moving forward.

Hartlepool 1-0 Leyton Orient (April 17, 2018)

And breathe.

This game was hardly a classic, but it was never about a fine performance. Pools needed a win and delivered when it mattered the most.

It was cagey, and Matthew Bates’ men rode their luck at time in the opening exchanges as Orient pushed forward.

But Louis Laing – a player who came in for his fair share of criticism over the course of the campaign – popped up to head home the only goal of the game.

It was the goal that sealed survival, and one which gives Pools the opportunity to rebuild next season as they target a return to the Football League.

Tranmere 1-2 Hartlepool (April 28, 2018)

With a new owner in place and Bates continuing to impress in the dugout, the mood around Victoria Park was in stark contrast to just a few months before.

And a trip to Tranmere, a side who have since reached the play-off finals, emphasised the promise at Pools ahead of the new season.

Donnelly’s penalty and Oates’ backheel handed Hartlepool a fine away win, which only served to increase the optimism around the club ahead of the start of a new era.

Fittingly, the win was sealed in front of an army of Pools’ fans – decked in their clown fancy dress of choice – who have stood by their side throughout a tumultuous campaign.

With them on side, and off-field issues resolved, Pools can look to improve matters on the field next year.

And if they turn out more displays like the one at Prenton Park, that will take care of itself.