What to expect from Hartlepool United's newest arrival, former Halifax Town midfielder Jack Hunter

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Halifax Town midfielder Jack Hunter became Hartlepool United's second signing of the summer last week. But what will the new man bring to Pools?

Crucially, the 26-year-old should strengthen a Pools midfield which was, arguably, their Achilles heel for much of last season.

Callum Cooke and Tom Crawford, who played 75 games between them last term, were among nine players released in April, while both Kieran Wallace and Anthony Mancini struggled for fitness for much of the previous campaign and Nicky Featherstone, who turns 36 in September, has signed a new, "transitional", player-coach contract.

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Pools probably need three new central-midfielders - indeed, Sarll's starting midfield on August 10th could be totally unrecognisable to the one John Askey fielded for last term's season-opener against Barnet - so getting Hunter signed and sealed so early in the summer is a positive start.

The 26-year-old arrives at Pools with a reputation for reliability, hard work, tenacity and composure in possession.The 26-year-old arrives at Pools with a reputation for reliability, hard work, tenacity and composure in possession.
The 26-year-old arrives at Pools with a reputation for reliability, hard work, tenacity and composure in possession.

His record and reputation suggests he should slot straight into the starting XI and, if the move works out, solve at least some of the issues that have plagued the Pools engine room for much of the last 12 months.

Hunter, who will reunite with former Halifax teammate Mani Dieseruvwe at the Suit Direct Stadium, is comfortable in possession, averaging an 85 per cent pass completion rate last season.

He's unlikely to be too fancy or expansive - and Pools fans do put pressure on their players to pass forwards at every available opportunity - but a lot of his work is aimed at freeing up more creative players. If Anthony Mancini returns from his homeland fit and firing, then Hunter could provide the perfect platform for the mercurial Frenchman to thrive.

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For much of last season, Pools were lacking a natural holding-midfielder.

Kieran Wallace, signed from Mansfield in the summer, struggled for fitness, playing just 21 times, and failed to make much of an impression when he was available.

Nicky Featherstone, meanwhile, was almost ever-present after re-signing in October but is not a natural holder, nor is he the most athletic or mobile; he is at his best with the ball at his feet.

Hunter, however, seems to relish doing the dirty work. Halifax fans hailed his impact out of possession, with the midfielder renowned for his work rate, tenacity and ability to win the ball back. He recovered possession for his side an average of 8.5 times per game, winning five duels every 90 minutes.

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Although experienced defenders Tom Parkes and Luke Waterfall made a massive impact following their January arrivals, helping Pools secure three successive home clean sheets, there were a handful of games when the lack of a natural defensive-midfielder left them exposed with woeful consequences; Pools shipped seven at Gateshead, three at Maidenhead, and three at relegated Dorking.

Hunter should be able to provide the pair with some much-needed protection. While his work might not always be the most glamorous or eye-catching, he should benefit his new side at both ends of the pitch.

Last season, Pools had a nightmarish time with injuries; in midfield, Mancini, Wallace and Cooke all had considerable spells on the sidelines.

Throughout his career, Hunter has proven he is fit and reliable. He played 44 times last season in a Halifax midfield where competition for places was intense; if he could manage something similar for Pools, it would be a big boost for Sarll.

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He also has experience of both winning promotion and reaching the play-offs, which could prove a useful asset if Pools are serious about pushing for a top seven spot next term.

Hunter was a regular in Chris Millington's successful Shaymen side who finished seventh last season, while he also played an important role when Gateshead were crowned National League North champions in 2022. He joins the likes of Luke Waterfall, David Ferguson, Nicky Featherstone, Joe Grey and Mani Dieseruvwe in knowing what it takes to achieve success in the National League; Sarll is big on creating a winning dressing room environment, so no doubt Hunter's track record will appeal to him.

Having come through the ranks at Newcastle, enjoyed two spells at Gateshead and had a stint at Blyth Spartans, he very much fits Sarll's focus on signing players with links to the local area.

The thinking, presumably, behind signing a core of players with ties to the North East is that it will better help Sarll's squad understand and adapt to the unique footballing climate and relentless expectation of supporters in an area where football means so much.

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At 26, he should be approaching the prime of his career, while he is a good size and is versatile, having played at centre-half while helping Gateshead win promotion back to the Football League.

Of course, there are still some question marks Hunter will need to answer if he's to prove a success at Pools.

Halifax fans have suggested he is not necessarily the most dynamic, although a player's departure often colours a fanbase's thinking, so it's worth taking that with a pinch of salt.

Even so, it would be unreasonable to expect Hunter to solve all of Pools' considerable midfield problems.

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Sarll must assemble an engine room complete with players whose strengths complement those of their teammates; last season, Cooke, Crawford and Featherstone were simply too similar, and all three suffered because of it.

So, the first piece in Sarll's midfield puzzle looks like he could be a good fit. The challenge now will be to find some pace, running power and creativity to slot in alongside Hunter and help him thrive at Pools.

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