Hartlepool United are the next club in our New Season, New Teams series and boast Exeter City’s longest away trip next season. Here is our preview of the Pools.
ABOUT HARTLEPOOL UNITED
Born out of West Hartlepool Amateurs in 1881, the fledgling club graced the amateur game with reasonable success, before a name change led Hartlepool United to be formed as a professional outfit in 1908. In August 1921, the Durham club played their first ever League game and came away with a 2-0 win over Wrexham.
Between 1943 and 1957, Fred Westgarth brought stability and success to Hartlepool, reaching their then best performance in the Cup (4th Round, 1955) and narrowly missed out on the Division Three title two years later.
In 1965 a young managerial duo of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor took the reins at Victoria Park and stayed for two years before famously moving to the midlands with Derby County. During the rest of the 20th Century, Hartlepool’s on-pitch antics were rather uneventful. After several ownership switchers, the turn of the century brought hope into the Hartlepool fanbase. The future of Four play-off campaigns in five years were accompanied with a 21 game unbeaten streak, earning then Boss Chris Turner the Manager of the Month. Despite being knocking on the door of the second tier for much of the decade, Pools were relegated to League Two in 2006.
Despite a swift return to League One, United failed to challenge for promotion again, dropping into League Two in 2014, then into non-league in 2017, for the first time in 97 years. Last season though, the play-off hoodoo was over for Hartlepool. A penalty shootout victory over Torquay United at Ashton Gate ensured Pools’ revival to the Football League, and they’ll be confident to challenge the better sides in the division next season.
Dave Challinor is no stranger to the touchline and will be embarking on his first managerial assault of the EFL. The former centre-back did play in the Football League however, with Tranmere and Bury before retiring in 2011. The 45-year-old took charge of Colwyn Bay and swiftly guided The Seagulls to the Conference North and won the North Wales Coast Cup the same season.
This grew attraction from AFC Fylde, where Challinor resided for eight years, managing the Lancashire club 415 times guiding them to National League North title (2016/17) and the FA Trophy (2018/19).
As the wind took the decorated manager to Hartlepool, play-off disappointment in his first season in charge was swiftly forgotten, as a penalty-shootout victory over Torquay just a season later ended the Pools’ 4-year Football League exile. The achievement was so celebrated in Durham, even Jeff Stelling named his cat after him.
Having signed a new two-deal in the summer, Nicky Featherstone has committed his talent to Hartlepool United. The 32-year-old has an abundance of Football League experience that will be crucial for his club’s return. Featherstone began his career at Hull City in 2006 and made sixteen appearences for the Tigers, bridged by four loan spells, before moving to Hereford in 2011.
His impressive form at Edgar Street earned a move to Walsall where he made 64 appearences in two years. The central midfielder soon had a spell at Harrogate before moving to Victoria Park in 2014. A stalwart in his midfield role, Featherstone has found the back of the net 16 times during his Hartlepool career including five during last year’s National League campaign.
He has previous against Exeter City too, scoring a scorcher in front of the Big Bank in 2019’s cup encounter against Pools, which brought the non-league side back into the tie. He has played against the Grecians seven times in total, winning on four occasions.
2020/21 SEASON IN REVIEW
A fourth placed finish for Hartlepool was enough to see Dave Challinor’s side promoted via the play-offs. The late start to the season wasn’t to deter the Pools as they raced into four wins from the first five games including a 6-0 demolition of Ilkeston Town in the FA Cup qualifiers. Though losses to promotion rivals Torquay and Wrexham followed, Pools kept their heads and went on a 16 game unbeaten streak between February and May which confirmed their place in the top 7.
In a thriller, Pools overcame Bromley in the quarter-finals, winning 3-2, before a nervier affair against Stockport ended 1-0 in their favour. The Final against Torquay began well, with Luke Armstrong netting in the first half. With seconds to go before promotion was sealed, Gulls ‘Keeper Lucas Covolan found the back of the Blues’ net to force the game to extra-time.
But a wonderful save from Brad James in the shootout fingertipped Matt Buse’s penalty onto the crossbar to scenes of a Pools Promotion Party.
HEAD TO HEAD
History would tell us that Hartlepool always offer an open opposition. All but three games since 2000 have seen 2 or more goals scored, with Pools edging the more modern encounters. City’s last win against the North-East club dates back to 2016, when goals from Alex Nicholls and Joel Grant earned the Grecians three points on the road.
Exeter City wins: 34
Hartlepool United wins: 27
Replay and Extra Time heartbreak for Exeter City saw the Grecians dumped out of the FA Cup Second Round, with Josh Hawkes scoring the decisive goal for the non-league side. The original game at St James Park also saw Exeter squander a two-goal advantage.
DID YOU KNOW?
Whilst at Victoria Park, Brian Clough and Peter Taylor were actually sacked through “budgetary reasons” in 1966- just a year into their tenure. However, a boardroom coup at the club soon turned the tables, as Clough and Taylor were quickly reinstated, and mendacious chairman Ernest Ord was ousted instead.