Joe Ramage: League Two predictions as Hartlepool United prepare for Walsall trip

The new season is upon us and it goes without saying there is a huge element of change at Hartlepool United.

A new manager and several new additions to the squad means we will be stepping into the unknown when Pools head to Walsall this weekend.

Paul Hartley certainly seems regimented in his approach and has enjoyed a successful pre-season given the turnover at the Suit Direct Stadium.

But what can we expect from Pools, and those competing with them in League Two, this season?

Hartlepool United's League Two campaign begins at Walsall. (Credit: Will Matthews | MI News)

What do you make of Pools’ summer so far?

As mentioned, it’s been a big summer of change. At some stage in the future you feel as though they will need to move away from such turnovers, but this year it was needed.

Hartley has gone about his business and brought in a selection of players he is both familiar with and trusts, with the early signs encouraging from pre-season.

Pools have lost some big characters over the summer. The likes of Luke Molyneux, Timi Odusina and Gary Liddle will be hard to replace for their on and off-field influence. But that’s not to say things won’t work.

Jake Hastie has the potential to excite Hartlepool United supporters this season. Picture by Martin Swinney

Similar to Hartley, I feel there remains space for one or two further additions in the squad, perhaps in those attacking positions behind the striker and maybe another centre-back.

Who do you expect to shine for Pools?

Jake Hastie seems the obvious candidate here.

He’s looked impressive in pre-season and will be a player Pools fans are naturally drawn to and expect things to happen when he gets the ball.

He’s a big gap to fill with Molyneux taking 12 goals out of the door, but he has potential.

I also think it could be a big year for Tom Crawford. He enjoyed a strong spell midway through last season and was rewarded with a new two-year deal as a result.

A more advanced position could see him influence more games in terms of goals and assists.

Where do you see Pools finishing?

As with the majority of clubs in League Two at this stage it’s difficult to say. Such is the turnover you can almost say you don’t know what to expect.

I fully appreciate the ambition of the club in setting their stall out for a promotion push, but I think building on last season and moving towards mid-table and the top half will be progress. 23 points is a lot of ground to make up to force a play-off push.

Who are the contenders?

I’d expect both Mansfield and Northampton Town to come back strong after last season’s near misses.

Bradford City seem an obvious choice to be in contention with some of the business they have done while there will be interest in former Pools boss Dave Challinor and Stockport County on their return to the EFL.

Crawley Town and Leyton Orient are my ‘outsiders’ for a good season.

Who are your players to watch?

I’m keen to see whether Molyneux kicks on again following his move to Doncaster Rovers.

Dominic Telford’s switch to Crawley Town raised one or two eyebrows after top scoring in the division last season while Kyle Hudlin, on loan at AFC Wimbledon, will be interesting to watch after the 6ft 9” striker attracted the attention of Manchester City over the last 12 months.