What can Hartlepool United expect from a Paul Hartley side: Analysing former Celtic and Hearts midfielder's time at Cove Rangers

Paul Hartley has developed something of a winning habit over the last decade as a manager but can Hartlepool United supporters expect that trend to continue?

By Joe Ramage
Tuesday, 7th June 2022, 5:05 pm

With five promotions in 10 years as a manager there’s little left to the imagination as to why Hartley’s appointment has caused a stir around the Suit Direct Stadium.

While Graeme Lee helped steady the ship for Pools following the turbulence caused by Dave Challinor’s exit last November, many supporters were accepting of the decision by the club to relieve him of his duties after a sluggish end to the season that yielded just one win in their final 12 games.

As when any new manager arrives there is a sense of optimism and, on paper, with Hartley that can be justified.

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Paul Hartley has enjoyed plenty of success during his time as a manager in Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

But let's look at some of the stats behind his achievements to try and establish what Pools might be getting after a month-long search for their new manager.

In terms of formations, Hartley has demonstrated, over the last 18 months in particular, he has evolved as a manager.

As someone you may describe as an ‘old fashioned’ midfielder during his playing days from the mid-1990’s through until 2011 some 500 games later, Hartley began as a traditional 4-4-2 kind of manager.

That has progressed from Alloa Athletic through to Dundee, Falkirk and Cove Rangers where last season he used a 3-5-2 (17%) or a 3-4-1-2 (14%) system almost as much as a 4-4-2 (18%). Hartley also used a 3-4-3 (11%) and a 4-1-3-2 (10%) on occasion as his side secured the Scottish League One title.

Paul Hartley's appointment has been well received by Hartlepool United supporters. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

In his first two seasons in charge at the Balmoral Stadium, Hartley implemented a 4-2-3-1 approach which he used 37% of the time as per data experts Wyscout. Hartley favoured that along with the 4-4-2 formation during his time at Dundee before differentiating with a 3-5-2 and a 4-4-1-1 in his final year at Dens Park.

Ultimately, this shows that Hartley is not bound to one particular set-up, nor is he stubborn enough to persevere with an approach if things aren’t working out or a particular opposition set-up differently. His formation history suggests he is willing to adapt to the players he has at his disposal with his in-game tactical philosophy perhaps where we can learn more about Hartley as a manager.

Like most, Hartley is a manager who encourages his teams to play on the front foot. In his first season with Cove Rangers Hartley was possession focused with his side averaging 60.2% possession in games throughout the season while also scoring an average of 2.55 goals per game at an expected goals (xG) ratio of 2.31.

Those figures have dwindled as Cove have climbed the leagues but remain positive with Hartley’s side still seeing 54.64% of the ball while averaging 1.95 goals per game against a 1.77 xG.

Former Raith Rovers striker Mitch Megginson was key for Paul Hartley at Cove Rangers (Photo by Jeff Holmes/Getty Images)

Contrast that with Pools this season who averaged 50.16% possession scoring 1.07 goals on average with an xG of 1.06 and Hartley’s side may well be more forward thinking.

But how will that be the case?

Well, this season Cove tended to out-shoot Pools by three shots per game with Hartley’s side attempting 13.92 efforts at goal to Pools’ 10.23. Pools also gave up more opportunities at goal (11.07) than Cove (9.03).

Hartley’s team were also able to put together more passes per game on average (435.46), something which has increased from the 2020/21 season, than Pools (384.11).

This season in strikers Mitchel Megginson (24 goals) and Rory McAllister (19 goals), Hartley had the league’s top two marksmen and was conducive to their attributes by getting them the ball as often as possible.

Hartley’s side crossed the ball 19.57 times per game, compared to Pools’ 14.23, which could suggest the likes of Jamie Sterry and David Ferguson will remain key at the Suit Direct Stadium in providing ammunition for Omar Bogle in the Pools attack.

But it’s not just with the ball Hartley’s side demonstrated solid numbers, with his Cove Rangers side allowing just 10.1 passes per defensive action (PPDA) compared to Pools’ 11.41 which helped limit Cove’s opponents to less than a goal a game.

Although the seasonal stats show encouraging signs for Pools you can also factor in some of the bread and butter stats, too, such as basic win percentages.

In over 400 games as a manager across four different clubs, Hartley has over a 45% winning ratio. To put that into context, of Pools’ managers, only Cyril Knowles (47.06%) and Challinor (47.45%) have higher winning percentages - albeit from much fewer games in charge per managerstats.

Hartley has achieved over a 50% win ratio at both Cove Rangers and Alloa where he was in charge for over 100 games at both.

Like most, Hartley is not immune from indifferent runs in form - something which Pools currently find themselves in. But the 45-year-old has been able to demonstrate the ability to turn things around when results haven’t gone his way.

Having won just one of his first 11 at Dens Park, Hartley lost just five of the next 15, winning seven, before an untimely run of seven defeats including a 7-0 hammering by Aberdeen sealed his fate.

When at Falkirk, Hartley went without a win in his opening eight games before winning 11 and drawing three of the next 20.

So what will Hartley’s Pools look like in practice?

It remains difficult to answer owing to the volume of activity required this summer to help rebuild a depleted squad following the returning of loan players and players who have been released or failed to agree new deals with the club.

Hartley will be keen to get to work with the likes of Nicky Featherstone, Sterry and Ferguson who will represent the core of his squad while the hope is business can be concluded swiftly in the coming weeks to bolster his options to allow him to play the type of football he desires.