What to do about Hartlepool United's goalkeeping conundrum?

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Hartlepool United need at least one new goalkeeper this summer. Darren Sarll faces a conundrum in-between the sticks.

In goal was, arguably, the most persistently problematic position for Pools last season. Most supporters felt it was the right time for promotion-winning stopper Ben Killip to move on, despite a sensational final performance against Dave Challinor's Stockport. For a goalkeeper who made 133 league appearances for Pools, helped them win promotion from the National League and was an ever-present on their return to League Two, there was not a lot of love lost between Killip and the fanbase. The 28-year-old lost his place in the second half of his final season at Pools after a series of unconvincing performances, with his indifferent distribution and struggles from crosses coming to the fore. He was allowed to move to League One promotion hopefuls Barnsley, while manager John Askey moved to bring in Pete Jameson and Joel Dixon.

At the time, it seemed like sensible business. It had been a long time since Pools could choose from two genuine number ones but the arrivals of Jameson, who won promotion to the National League under Askey at York, and Dixon, a National League title winner with Barrow and bona fide Bluebirds legend, looked like being two keepers capable of filling Killip's shoes.

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The reality was far more complicated. Dixon arrived after a difficult two year spell with Bolton, where he managed just 24 league appearances and appeared to have lost his confidence. He looked nervous even in pre-season, but just about did enough to start the campaign as number one. He failed to convince as Pools rose to the top of the league, but the impressive performances of those in front of him papered over the cracks. It was not until a trip to Chesterfield, when his mistake at the death cost Pools a point, that things came to a head. He was taken out of the firing line for two months but continued to look, to be frank, like a deer in headlights after his return to the side. It was, in truth, probably as much a relief to him as it was to the supporters when he was dropped again in March after managing just one clean sheet in 26 appearances.

Pete Jameson struggled during his initial stint as number one but was much-improved after his recall in March and will be hoping he's done enough to earn a permanent contract.Pete Jameson struggled during his initial stint as number one but was much-improved after his recall in March and will be hoping he's done enough to earn a permanent contract.
Pete Jameson struggled during his initial stint as number one but was much-improved after his recall in March and will be hoping he's done enough to earn a permanent contract.

Pete Jameson, initially at least, fared little better. He kept one, rather fortuitous, clean sheet in 11 outings before he was returned to back-up duties. Like Dixon, he struggled to make a positive impression and was widely criticised for lacking agility and mobility. However, to his great credit, he was a goalkeeper transformed following his recall by Kevin Phillips - one of his childhood heroes - in March. Helped by the assured presence of January arrivals Tom Parkes and Luke Waterfall, he kept three successive home clean sheets and produced a string of eye-catching saves on the road against the likes of Rochdale, Eastleigh and Dorking Wanderers.

Time will tell whether the 31-year-old's resurgence will be enough to earn him a permanent deal at the Suit Direct Stadium. A lot will probably depend on the future of Dixon, who has been transfer listed and looks in need of a fresh start. It's unlikely Pools will want to go into the new season with the same two goalkeepers who struggled for much of the previous campaign, although Jameson and a new face could appeal.

If Sarll's intention is to continue to explore the local talent pool, then the experienced Luke Daniels could be an option. The 36-year-old spent two years at Middlesbrough before spending a season at Forest Green, who released him following their relegation to the National League. He has an impressive CV, playing more than 100 times for Scunthorpe, who were then in League One, keeping more clean sheets than any other goalkeeper in the division during his time as the Iron's number one. Pools might be put off by his age, and the fact that he's spent much of the second half of his career as a number two.

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A more youthful option, although still with a local flavour, is Dan Langley. The 23-year-old is available as a free agent following his release by Oldham. He came through the ranks at Newcastle and has spent time at both Gateshead and Blyth Spartans, and will certainly feel like he's capable of proving himself at this level. A Langley and Jameson combination looks attractive, putting faith in the developing goalkeeper while being able to call on Jameson - who was a popular figure in the Pools dressing room - to provide experience and know-how.

There are some big National League names available, notably Boreham Wood goalkeeper Nathan Ashmore. While he might be keen to remain in the National League following the Wood's relegation, it seems improbable he would be willing to move to the North East at this stage in his career, given that he has lived in Portsmouth for most of his life and has never played further north than Hertfordshire.

Pools missed out on the highly thought of Harrison Male, who was Dorking's player of the season last term. The former Leeds goalkeeper linked back up with his old Worthing boss Adam Hinshelwood at York, which given the connection between the 23-year-old and the Minstermen's new manager makes a lot of sense. There are still question marks over his diminutive stature, and Pools are probably in need of a dominant, commanding goalkeeper next season.

Some familiar faces could come under consideration. Scott Loach, who won successive player of the season awards during an impressive spell at Pools, is available on a free following his release by Derby and has hinted he's keen to keep playing, while Brad Young, who came through the ranks at Pools and has been impressing for Leicester's youth teams, could be available on loan if the Foxes feel now is the right time for him to test himself in senior football. Play-off hero Brad James is back in the game after missing two-and-a-half years with an injury and has been impressing at Spennymoor under former Pools boss Graeme Lee. He had one or two nervy moments in his loan spell at Pools, although given he was thrown in with Dave Challinor's side pushing for promotion, that's perhaps understandable. The biggest worry would surely be his injury record. Hartlepool-born Jonathan Mitchell is available after his release by Harrogate.

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Barrow's Paul Farman could be in line to leave the Cumbrians after they paid a fee for highly rated Chester stopper Wyll Stanway, while Scunthorpe's Ross Fitzsimmons and South Shields' Myles Boney enjoyed impressive campaigns in the National League North.

Pools simply cannot afford the same goalkeeping issues that afflicted them for most of last season and pervaded into a leaky defence. A new number one, and possibly even another back-up, must be close to the top of Sarll's shopping list. Pools must have a solid base from which to build, and that starts with a new face in-between the sticks.

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