Vital Hartlepool Exclusive
A season that promised so much, ended on a very sour note. The champagne due to be opened on May 3rd gathered enough dust, and the trophy cabinet is still a spiders perfect home. But lets be realistic. League One 2008/2009 was not exactly going to be easy, though in saying that no teams came up against Pools and walked over them. But in Hartlepool United’s centenary season it was supposed to be a celebratory one. But as we all know it was far from it.
The excellent cup run and the giant killing wins were the highs but even the famous comebacks were as entertaining as it looked on paper. Constantly hearts were in mouths, and for a third tier club, you should not been conceding 2 goals to win a game. And lets not forget the excellent Joel Porter. 23 goals in a under performing squad speaks for its self. His six year service that he gave the club will be remembered by every Poolie. Thanks for the memories Joel Porter
But what went wrong? The defence is quite often blamed and the goalkeepers. But lets be serious all though Arran Lee-Barrett conceding more than a dozen of sloppy goals, he wasn’t helped by the two men in front of him. Yes I am talking about Michael Nelson and Sam Collins.
Dribbling in your own box isn’t exactly clever, especially with Neil Harris waiting to pounce. Constant sliced clearances, wild passes, failing to win the ball in the air, are all techniques defenders should avoid. But Collins and Nelson this season, which turned into a relegation battle, did exactly that.
Forget Vidic and Ferdinand or Carragher and Skrtel, these two are the best in the this league by far. But turn yourself away from the newspaper dated Saturday 9 August 2008 and face reality. They are far from a commanding force. A commanding force is two players who don’t let up on more than one occasion every game.
Danny Wilson certainly raised a few eyebrows when he forked out £75,000 for the towering, evil looking defender. For starters IOR don’t often pay big fees for players, secondly his age was a concern for some supporters. But with age comes experience, and Collins looked a real force alongside a struggling Michael Nelson.
With Pools lying in mid-table, relegation, nor Play-offs were a possibility, But Pools were giving away sloppy goals, and Collins came in to steer the ship at the back. And he quickly became a player who could not be taken off the first team line up.
In only his second game in charge he suffered a controversial red-card at Southend and with that red card, Pools looked shaky once again in defence. Collins returned and look confident on the ball and off the ball, but the same could not be said for Nelson. Therefore the sloppy goals, again returned. Gone are the times when Pools could keep clean-sheets The goalkeepers came in for heavy criticism. Collins and Nelson were let off the hook.
But the signing by Wilson soon turned sour. Wilson departed and it looked as if Collins had too. This season has seen a turn for the worse for the duo. Sloppy goals returned, and Collins had far from impressed, neither has Nelson. While Nelson had enjoyed a good few months on form, his performances have went on a downward spiral since and his poor displays are being rubbed off on Collins. Agreed Arran Lee-Barrett has certainly had a say in Pools inconsistent form, but with a shaky defence in front of him, Collins and Nelson were mainly to blame. But the troublesome defence weren’t the only ones to blame.
The midfield was weak, Andy Monkhouse was the only winger, and he couldn’t provide without help. Central midfielders, Strikers, Right-backs, were been used at Right midfielder. There were thousands of them out there that would have done a job, but instead Pools decided to stick by their guns, and be wasted on the wing. Tommy Widdington, Mark Tinkler are just a few names that spring to mind of tough tackling midfielders. Granted the loss of Willie Boland didn’t help but without a tough tackler and a bit of fight, teams could dance past the midfield.
Injuries did play a part in the poor season, most notably James Brown, but if that was the case, we could be in the Champions League final tonight. Every team suffers injuries, it cant be at blame. But we have to live up to the fact that not enough signings were made. 3 inexperienced players were drafted in, one of which became a regular. Signings and victories gets bums on seats, inexperience and conceding goals takes bums off seats. The away form was still a major concern, only 5 victories in 23 league attempts, it wasn’t good enough. The excellent travelling army of Pools fans are being let down too often. Everywhere and Anywhere they take hundreds.
But do we want to much success. I stated earlier in the month that the success IOR has brought, has tempted to many fans to aim far too high. But its true. We are Hartlepool United not Manchester United. Our division will always be the third tier. One day we will enjoy a stay in the promised land of the Championship, but with crowds of 4000 we are never going to be a hit. If it wasn’t for IOR, I am quite sure I would be writing my reflection on another lucky escape to stay away from the Blue Square Premier. But thank goodness were not.
Next season we have already started the rebuilding. Adam Boyd has returned, Leon McSweeney has put pen to paper, Peter Hartley has reportedly signed a deal, and many more are to be finalised. So next season, lets get the Vic rocking once more, and lets see people on seats not dust. The league is going to be the toughest yet, without a shadow of a doubt, but lets believe. Who said there was harm in believing?
Hartlepool’s Centenary Season Reflection (Part 10)
Vital Hartlepool Exclusive