The popular Soccer Saturday presenter pens a guest column
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.
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.
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.
DOING NICELY: Newport celebrate in their 1-1 draw at Crewe