Hartlepool United's big League Two 2021-22 preview: What to expect and teams to watch
After four years away, Hartlepool United’s League Two return is just around the corner.
This Saturday, they will host Crawley Town in front of a packed Victoria Park to mark the start of a new and hopefully prosperous era for the club.
While Pools have spent almost their entire 113-year history in the Football League, the club has undoubtedly changed over the past four seasons of National League football.
It has been stripped back to the bone and the rebuilding process is underway with manager Dave Challinor at the helm. The club will need time to adjust to the Football League standards once again as they look to shake off that non-league residue.
The fourth tier has changed quite a bit since Pools last played in it, here’s a look at what we can expect this upcoming season…
A lot less travelling
Pools clocked up over 10,000 miles of travelling across the 2020-21 National League season, not to mention wasted overnight trips to the likes of Barnet, Eastleigh and Dagenham & Redbridge that they had to make again following postponements.
This coming season should be considerably kinder on the old travel expenses, at least in theory.
In the National League, only eight out of the 22 other clubs were located within 200-miles of Hartlepool, with only Halifax Town within 100. Failure to earn promotion would have seen the side preparing for mammoth journeys to the likes of Torquay United, Weymouth and Dover Athletic once again.
League Two is a significantly more northern based League with 13 of the 23 other clubs located within 200 miles. Carlisle United, Harrogate Town and Bradford City are all under 100-miles away.
Of course there are still lengthy expeditions to Exeter City, Bristol Rovers and Crawley Town, but on the whole the division is considerably more localised with plenty of big away matches to look forward to without having to plan a full day of travelling.
Bigger crowds, better atmosphere
This feels like stating the obvious following a promotion to a higher division but after the restrictions of the past 18-months and most matches being played behind closed doors, you can never be too sure!
Fortunately, capacity restrictions have been lifted in sports stadiums ahead of the new season meaning we could theoretically see a full Victoria Park this coming campaign.
Generally, clubs have bigger followings in League Two not to mention shorter distances to travel which will result in increased away followings at Victoria Park. A packed Rink End will be a far more regular occurrence than it was in the National League.
We can expect to see crowds of 4,000 plus at The Vic making their voices heard.
To quote Pools defender Jamie Sterry: “No offence to teams in the National League, but some of them aren’t very good.”
A harsh but fair assessment made just a week before Pools secured promotion from the fifth tier.
League Two will be considerably different with every single club an established full-time outfit filled with seasoned professionals.
But what bodes well for Pools is that newly promoted clubs actually have a fairly solid record in League Two.
With the National League so difficult to get out of with just one automatic and one play-off promotion place available, those who come up tend to be able to hold their own the following season.
Since the inaugural National (Alliance) League season in 1979-80, no side who has been promoted to the Football League has made an immediate return to non-league football.
Out of 47 promoted sides from the fifth tier over the past 41 years, 10 have gone on to earn consecutive promotions with a further 14 securing top half finishes in their first season up.
But that’s no guarantee Pools will be safe this coming season as their late promotion means there are already 23 better prepared clubs to watch out for.
Teams to watch
Ever since their promotion from the National League, Salford City have had plenty of eyes on them in League Two.
With the biggest budget in the division, The Ammies are expected to finally mount a serious promotion challenge in the fourth tier at the third time of asking.
Their previous two campaigns have yielded 11th and 8th place finishes respectively, just missing out on the play-offs last time out.
Newly relegated Bristol Rovers are expected to be competitive as they look to make an immediate return to League One under the management of former Newcastle United midfielder Joey Barton.
Bradford City have also had a positive pre-season under Derek Adams and are likely to improve significantly on their 15th place finish in 2020-21.
Another former Premier League side in Swindon Town have had ownership issues recently resolved following their relegation to League Two and could be worth keeping an eye on as new owner Clem Morfuni looks to steady the ship.
Pools’ promotion partners Sutton United are a bit of an unknown quantity going into their first ever season in the Football League. They were surprise winners of the National League, like Barrow the season before, can they carry on the momentum?
What are the bookmakers saying?
Pools are priced at 40/1 to win the League Two title this coming season. Understandably, they’re one of the rank outsiders but the bookies have still priced a few clubs at longer odds.
National League champions Sutton are available at the longest odds of 66/1 while Scunthorpe United, Stevenage and Barrow are all available at 50/1 with Sky Bet.
Now this is never an indicator of what to expect or how things are going to unfold. Last season, Morecambe were tipped as relegation candidates before a ball was kicked yet were able to secure promotion via the play-offs by the end of the campaign.
Pools will be hoping to do something similar on a similarly modest budget.