Joe Ramage: On the beach? Bringing some context to Hartlepool United's drop in form as Graeme Lee's side head towards the finish line in League Two

Three games to go. Not a lot to play for. It’s time we spoke about the fabled ‘end of season syndrome.’

By Joe Ramage
Thursday, 21st April 2022, 1:00 pm

Yes, every year teams and players get tarnished with a so-called ‘on the beach’ mentality when form goes awry towards the end of a season and for Hartlepool United, they find themselves very much in that territory.

Where Easter weekend in football is often significant with two games in quick succession, for Pools it was perhaps more of a hindrance with squad numbers short and injuries continuing to plague Graeme Lee’s squad.

Pools fell to a narrow defeat to Port Vale on Good Friday and followed that up on Easter Monday with a frustrating stoppage time loss at Rochdale, meaning it’s just one win in nine games since their semi-final heartbreak against Rotherham United in the EFL Trophy.

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Hartlepool United have accomplished what they set out to do this season. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

That’s not to say that their season ended when Mickel Miller converted the winning spot kick to end Pools’ hopes of a Wembley final, but the dip in results in particular since then has been alarming.

With Pools effectively safe for a number of weeks prior to their mathematical confirmation in the draw at Forest Green Rovers a fortnight ago it did feel like what has transpired could be the case following that semi-final shootout defeat.

Both Lee and assistant manager Michael Nelson have been asked about players ‘downing tools’ and ‘taking their foot off the gas’ in recent weeks as Pools seemingly labour towards the finish line but it is worth establishing some context.

For several of these players this season has been almost a continuation from their promotion winning campaign of 12 months ago.

Hartlepool United have struggled for form since their EFL Trophy semi-final defeat to Rotherham United. Picture by FRANK REID

Players had roughly a fortnight to rest-up, recharge their batteries and reset their focus after an emotionally charged climax to last season before starting things up again.

Whichever way you look at it, that has been a big ask and one the players should be applauded for coming through with such success.

And success is the next point to be considered.

When Matt Buse’s spot kick was fabulously pushed onto the crossbar by Brad James back in June, had you suggested to Pools supporters there and then they would be 16 points above the relegation zone in League Two with three games remaining, having been to the semi-final of the EFL Trophy and the fourth round of the FA Cup, I think you would have trouble taking your hand away from chomping mouths.

Nevertheless, that does not make the current fizzling out any less frustrating.

But what is encouraging, and what gives reason to suggest the players haven’t quite got their factor 50 on just yet, is some of the performances within games during these last nine fixtures.

While there have been a couple of throw-away displays, like Leyton Orient and Salford City, there has been some really pleasing performances too such as in the win at Newport County and even the first half performances over the Easter weekend against both Port Vale and Rochdale.

Sometimes, you have to acknowledge that Pools, for this season, may just be a mid-table side. And given where they have come from, that’s OK.