The shocking Hartlepool United trend that manager Dave Challinor will be looking to break over 'season defining' festive period
The next six matches will decide whether it’s another season of mid table mediocrity or play-off challenging for Hartlepool United.
Pools manager Dave Challinor has described the festive period as ‘season defining’ and the stats go some way to backing up that statement.
On Saturday, Hartlepool kick off their National League Christmas schedule at home to out of form Dagenham & Redbridge (3pm kick-off).
They then face play-off challengers Harrogate Town home and away, either side of their game against league leaders Barrow at Victoria Park.
Challinor’s side currently sit 14th in the table with 32 points after 24 games. While it’s hardly saying much, it’s their highest points total in the National League at this stage in the campaign, though only by a single point.
Each of Pools’ previous two seasons in the National League have seen them accumulate 31 points from their opening 24 matches.
But on both occasions, it has been the busy Christmas schedule that has proven to be their downfall.
Out of a possible 36 points available over the past two Christmas schedules in the National League, Pools have only been able to pick up eight points – ultimately cutting them adrift of any potential play-off challenge.
“It’s season defining absolutely and that’s a record I didn’t need to know about but we certainly need to improve on!” Challinor smiled.
“Even after Christmas, you look through and January becomes an important month with the FA Cup game at Oxford then we go to Dover and Yeovil.
“Then you go into February where we’re playing, Solihull, Notts County Stockport, those teams who are above us in the table.
“Certainly through the Christmas period and extending into January and February is going to be massively important.
“Firstly, the run between now and New Year’s Day where we’ve got four games, three against teams in the play-offs or, in Barrow’s case, top of the league.
“They’re going to be big so it’s an important opportunity for us in a short space of time.
“By the end of January, we’ll have a pretty good idea of where we’re at and hopefully by then we’ll have more than one eye on the teams above us and we’re in and around the play-off places.”
While Pools have struggled during the festive period in the National League, Challinor’s former club AFC Fylde have flourished under his management.
The Coasters have picked up 24 out of a possible 36 points during Christmas and New Year period over the past two seasons.
And it’s perhaps no coincidence that they’ve finished in the play-off places on the back of those runs of form.
But there’s no secret formula for Challinor, it’s just about taking the chances when they come and coping with the schedule.
“It’s a time of the year when results can be very different and each game is different and you have to be ready for that,” said the Hartlepool manager.
“I’ve said previously that the Boxing Day result can be the polar opposite to the New Year’s Day result even though you’re playing the same team a week apart.
“It’s the nature of the season and it’s always tough because even if you’re the most professional footballer, there are different distractions with Christmas and kids getting up early, throwing wrapping paper all over the place, in-laws coming round and causing hassle but that’s part and parcel of it!
“You just need to look after yourself as best you can.
“It’s a massively important time of the year because there are 12 points up for grabs between now and New Year’s Day, if we take 12 points then I’d like to think we’d be in the play-off positions.
“Whether teams have done well or not so well previously, it’s a different time, a different season, different opponents, different players so we can’t look too far ahead and assume anything.
“Winning Saturday is something that will give us momentum going forward and hopefully we can improve on that record.”
Challinor was critical of his players following their FA Trophy defeat at Harrogate last Saturday as three late errors saw them throw away a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2.
Saturday’s match against Dagenham is the ideal opportunity to put things right and the Pools boss is focusing on what his side have done well as they look to develop that much needed and all important winning mentality.
“The main focus is all about controlling what we can control,” he continued.
“There are going to be mistakes and individual errors, sometimes they can cost us goals but that’s something that happens and we’ve got to work hard and react positively to situations.
“We’ve looked at what we do and what the opposition do in terms of their system and how they play.
“Fundamentally, we’ve got to continue what we’ve been doing but it’s crucial we cut out the mistakes.
“There are lots of positives you can take from matches but those can be forgotten if you get a bad result.
“We’ve got to stop the cycle and keep believing in what we’re doing because a lot of it is good. We can’t continue to keep making the mistakes we’ve made.
“We’ve been producing good performances on the whole and getting some good results on the back of them but we now need to become a more consistent team in terms of winning.
“No one remembers a team who plays well and drops points – we need to be a team that finds a way to win no matter what.”