What the stats say: THREE areas Hartlepool need to improve on and three signs for encouragement in 2019/20
The National League table shows Hartlepool United finished in an underwhelming 16th position in 2018/19.
It was an up and down campaign for the Super 6 Stadium outfit but one that still ended with a sense of optimism going into 2019/20.
Here is what the stats suggest Pools need to improve on and what they can be encouraged by heading into their third season in the top flight of non-league football:
AREA TO IMPROVE: STARTING ON THE BACK FOOT
Hartlepool conceded the first goal in 12 of Craig Hignett’s 16 games in permanent charge last season.
Only twice in that same period, against Wrehxam and Boreham Wood, did they open the scoring.
And on both occasions, Pools kept a clean sheet and won the game.
Netting the first goal provides a lift and gives the players the opportunity to kick-on. Hartlepool need more of that next season.
SIGN FOR ENCOURAGEMENT: BOUNCING BACK
While going behind in matches was far from ideal, the character shown from Hartlepool under Craig Hignett is one of the key positives to take into the new season.
Despite conceding first in 75% of Hignett’s matches, Pools were still able to pick up 15 points with four wins and three draws out of 12.
The 3-2 comeback wins at home to Dover Athletic and Salford City were key positives from the second half of last season.
Pools also trailed 2-0 at Sutton United before coming back to earn a 2-2 draw back in March.
Their ability to bounce back after half-time was significant as in total, no side in the National League conceded fewer goals than Hartlepool in the first 15-minutes of the second half with only Harrogate Town scoring more.
In the minutes 46-60 Pools scored 16 and conceded only six.
AREA TO IMPROVE: AWAY FORM
With just one victory away from the Super 6 Stadium in 2019, Hartlepool’s form on their travels is certainly something that needs addressing.
That single win was an impressive 4-0 triumph at Boreham Wood back in February – a level of performance that Craig Hignett’s men were unable to replicate on the road last campaign.
Pools will have to travel over 10,000 miles over the course of next season with mammoth trips to National League newcomers Torquay and Yeovil now to look forward to.
The away journeys can be daunting at times but it will be important not to use them as an excuse.
If Pools want to be competing at the right end of the table, they need to be a team to be feared at home and away.
SIGN FOR ENCOURAGEMENT: HOME SUPPORT
Despite finishing the National League in 16th place last season, Hartlepool were still able to boast the fourth highest average home crowd in the division at 3,124.
Champions Leyton Orient came out on top with an average crowd of 5,444, closely followed by play-off semi-finalists Wrexham with 5,145.
With over 750 season tickets sold so far, the early signs are looking good that Pools will be backed by another strong home crowd at the Super 6 Stadium.
Hartlepool’s final match of the 2018/19 campaign against Salford City was watched by a crowd of 3,582 as Pools came from behind to win 3-2 against the eventual promotion final winners.
The atmosphere in that game and particularly the 3-2 win at home to Dover in March is something Poolies can harness providing there is progress on the pitch.
As we’ve seen previously, if things are going well on the field it can really capture the imagination of the town and momentum can really start to gather.
The past three National League seasons have shown the impact a strong home following can have with Lincoln City, Tranmere Rovers and Leyton Orient all showing how a strong home following can truly invigorate a club’s season and lead to promotion.
AREA TO IMPROVE: GOALS FROM ATTACKING PLAYERS
No Pools player scored over 10 goals from open play in the National League last season.
Liam Noble ended 2018/19 with 13 league goals from midfield though eight of those were from the penalty spot.
The introduction of Nicke Kabamba on loan from Havant & Waterlooville in January provided a much-needed boost up-front as the 26-year-old netted seven goals in 17 appearances before signing permanently in May.
A proven goalscorer is a must for any side striving for success in the National League. Kabamba could be that man but some competition is certainly needed to help Pools kick-on.
SIGN OF ENCOURAGEMENT: JOSH HAWKES’ EYE FOR GOAL
A key source of goals Hartlepool will be looking for next season could well come from 20-year-old Josh Hawkes.
The young midfielder netted nine times in 29 appearances in 2018/19 with his strike rate of a goal every 167 minutes rivalling some of the league’s top frontmen.
Leyton Orient’s Macauley Bonne ended the campaign with a record of a goal every 176 minutes and golden boot winner Danny Rowe had only a marginally
superior strike rate of a goal every 156 minutes.
Hawkes should only improve and his performances will be key to Pools’ success in 2019/20.