League Two 10 game review: How have Hartlepool United started life back in the Football League?

The 10 game stage is the first real milestone in any league season.

Tuesday, 5th October 2021, 11:59 am

By 10 games, the volatile table has started to settle down somewhat and there’s a reasonable level of understanding as to who the big hitters and strugglers are shaping up to be.

Forest Green Rovers are the early pace setters in League Two with 23 points while Scunthorpe United and Oldham Athletic reside in the relegation zone on seven points.

But even after 10 games, with over a fifth of the season played, the table remains incredibly close. There are just two points separating fourth placed Leyton Orient and Crawley Town in 14th.

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Hartlepool United's Will Goodwin celebrates after Tyler Burey scored their first goal during the Sky Bet League 2 match between Hartlepool United and Walsall at Victoria Park, Hartlepool on Saturday 21st August 2021. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

Just ahead of Crawley on goal difference sit Hartlepool United in 13th. The newly promoted side, who had next to no time to prepare for the step-up into League Two following their dramatic play-off promotion at the back end of June, have made a solid return to life back in the Football League with four wins, two draws and four defeats in their opening 10.

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Objectively speaking, it’s been a respectable start to the season given the circumstances in which the club returned to the EFL and the tools at their disposal.

It was initially a brilliant beginning for Dave Challinor’s side with three wins from their opening four games and four wins from their opening six. But a run of four games without a win and just one goal scored has ultimately dampened the positive outlook.

Hartlepool fans try and motivate the team during the Sky Bet League 2 match between Tranmere Rovers and Hartlepool United at Prenton Park, Birkenhead on Saturday 4th September 2021. (Credit: Ian Charles | MI News)

Following a difficult pre-season in terms recruitment and results, picking up 14 points from the opening 10 games is a return most newly promoted sides would be pleased with. And Pools should be no different.

But the contrasting nature of the home and away form paired with a distinct lack of firepower has raised more questions than answers.

All of Pools’ wins this season have been at Victoria Park while they have picked up just one point out of a possible 15 on the road.

Victoria Park is a great place to play football at the moment. The positivity emanating from the stands on a matchday has undoubtedly helped the side continue their impeccable home form, but it’s a very delicate situation.

Hartlepool United's Zaine Francis-Angol wins a header against Zak Dearnley of Oldham Athletic during the Sky Bet League 2 match between Oldham Athletic and Hartlepool United at Boundary Park, Oldham on Saturday 18th September 2021. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

A couple of poor results and all of a sudden The Vic could become a difficult environment with 5,000 expectant supporters growing more frustrated.

Without Pools’ form at home they would be in trouble so it’s vital they keep that optimism and hope regardless of a couple of defeats or bad performances.

Away from home remains a conundrum. Regardless of how well Hartlepool play – the performance against Tranmere Rovers is arguably their best of the season so far – they just can’t seem to get a result.

And on numerous occasions already, the side have been handed a lesson in taking chances.

Hartlepool United manager Dave Challinor during the Sky Bet League 2 match between Hartlepool United and Exeter City at Victoria Park, Hartlepool on Saturday 25th September 2021. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

Creating opportunities hasn’t been an issue, Jamie Sterry and David Ferguson provide great width and service from the wing-back positions, even if it does prove a little predictable at times.

Millwall loanee Tyler Burey initially provided that spark up front Pools needed, but since his hamstring injury, the side have looked toothless in the final third. That is backed up by the fact the side have scored just twice in six games since the 20-year-old’s injury.

Attacking flair provided by Gavan Holohan from midfield has also been missed with injury issues no doubt taking their toll on Pools’ start to the season. At full strength, they are a match for most sides in the league – but as a whole, their squad falls slightly short.

The general consensus is that Pools are a proficient striker away from being a strong League Two side.

At the moment, they are a top heavy team who have already played eight different players up front this season without any real results – it’s hardly a recipe for success.

While conceding nine goals in 10 games is an impressive defensive return, scoring only nine shows where the issues lie.

Hartlepool United's Gavan Holohan celebrates with his team mates and the bench during the Sky Bet League 2 match between Hartlepool United and Carlisle United at Victoria Park, Hartlepool on Saturday 28th August 2021. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

In many ways, Pools’ situation mirrors where they were after 10 games in the National League last season.

After a strong start to the 2020-21 season, Pools endured a tough run that saw them drop to 14th in the table and were struggling to score given a distinct lack of firepower.

But after 12 games they were able to bring in a proven National League goalscorer in Luke Armstrong which ultimately altered the course of their season for the better.

Barring a minor free agent miracle, Pools aren’t going to find a 15 to 20 goal a season striker within the next two games, they have to work with what they've got.

A failure to sign an established goalscorer in the summer also puts a lot of pressure on the January transfer window should Pools be unable to find the answer to their attacking problems. By that point over half the season will have been played.

While the initially promising points return may have had people dreaming of a play-off charge once again, realistically a successful season for Pools would be to consolidate their place in League Two and continue to build the club up behind the scenes.

While the tight nature of the league means they are just a run of wins away from being right up in the promotion places, they are also another few games without a win from looking over their shoulder towards the relegation zone. It’s hard to judge where Pools’ season is going at this stage but it’s clear what problems need addressing.

The biggest positive of the new season has been tying manager Dave Challinor down to a new three year contract.

And even the ambitious Pools boss knows that the first target for his side is to reach the 50 point mark and secure safety.

Anything beyond that is a bonus.

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