JEFF STELLING

The pop­u­lar Soccer Satur­day pre­sen­ter pens a guest column

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HARTLE­POOL’S mis­for­tune to drop out of the Foot­ball League was Newport County’s for­tune. Their sur­vival last sea­son was bril­liant for them. The Ex­iles fin­ished two points above us and we were the ones who ended up slip­ping into Non-League foot­ball.

I give them huge credit. They did what we man­aged a cou­ple of years be­fore and got themselves out of trouble. We can have no com­plaints.

I’ll be hon­est, I thought they’d be strug­gling to sur­vive again this sea­son. But they’re not! They’ve car­ried on where they left off last sea­son. I’m pleased for them because I can see lots of sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween our clubs.

In­cred­i­ble

Talk­ing of sides I ex­pected to strug­gle – how about Shrewsbury in League One? They’ve had an in­cred­i­ble start to the sea­son and, ahead of the week­end, were the only un­beaten side in the di­vi­sion. I went through Shrewsbury on the March for Men walk in the sum­mer and got a great re­cep­tion.

But you have to think, when you’ve seen what has happened year af­ter year, that they were go­ing to strug­gle again. To be where they are at this stage of the sea­son is un­be­liev­able.

They’ve found themselves a goalscorer in Ste­fan Payne, who got more than a few for Dover and landed a move to Barns­ley. He’s joined them and is do­ing re­ally well.

Then there’s Notts County. I didn’t ex­pect them to do as well they are, ei­ther, sit­ting at the top of League Two.

Kevin Nolan and Alan Smith – the Likely Lads! They’ve got bags of ex­pe­ri­ence in their squad, bor­rowed Jorge Grant, right, from Not­ting­ham For­est and he’s got some goals. They’re a real sur­prise pack­age. Plenty of man­agers have gone in there, tried to breathe new life into them and failed. So, good for Kevin. He’s a cracking bloke. You can­not judge him on what happened when he was at Ley­ton Ori­ent. Ditto any other man­ager who’s been there re­cently. He was a great pro and played a lot of games at the high­est level. It doesn’t mat­ter who you are, if you fail at your first club then it is re­ally hard to get an­other job. So, credit to him that he got the Notts County role and is thriv­ing.

Though, let’s be hon­est. Pep Guardi­ola could have been Ori­ent man­ager last sea­son and he wouldn’t have had any more suc­cess.

Fair play to him for also start­ing down the lad­der and show­ing people he can do the job. Step by step you can work your way up.

A great ex­am­ple of that is Chris Wilder at Sh­effield United. His record is stag­ger­ing, wher­ever he’s been. He’s re­ally put in the hard yards work­ing his way up the leagues and the Blades have had a great start to life back in the Cham­pi­onship.

My Hartle­pool have been a bit more of a mixed bag in the Na­tional League.

Be­fore last Satur­day’s de­feat against Eastleigh, it looked like we were find­ing our feet. We’d won four and drawn one – away at Wrex­ham – of our previous five games.

The start to the sea­son of two points in the first six games couldn’t have been much worse. It was a night­mare re­ally.

We brought in a lot of new play­ers and ap­pointed a new man­ager in Craig Har­ri­son, who has been very suc­cess­ful with TNS in Wales but hadn’t man­aged at this level be­fore.

Difficult

The club were, rightly, de­ter­mined that, how­ever it went at the start of the sea­son, he would get time to im­ple­ment his ideas.

Thank­fully, we’ve turned it around a bit now.

It’s difficult not to panic sometimes. You look at York City last sea­son when they were rel­e­gated from the Foot­ball League. They got off to a bad start and it never re­ally got any bet­ter.

It sounds ab­so­lutely lu­di­crous say­ing this as a Hartle­pool fan, but when some­one like Fylde comes to us, it’s one of their biggest games. The same when we went to Maiden­head.

How do they pre­pare? They don’t cut the grass! But that’s some­thing we’ve done in the past.

I have no is­sues with that. It just means that ev­ery game is a big game.

We’ve had a few in­juries, but I’m fairly op­ti­mistic that, when we get two or three play­ers back, we’ll be OK.

The good thing about the Na­tional League is ev­ery­one is beat­ing each other at the mo­ment. It means we’re not that far away from the pro­mo­tion places.

PIC­TURE: MI News & Sport

DO­ING NICELY: Newport cel­e­brate in their 1-1 draw at Crewe

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