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Mark has another attempt at becoming the best manager in the world. Can he do it?

Discussion
Welcome to my brand new FM story. I had to abort the previous one as the laptop I was playing on packed up completely on me.

Now armed with a new piece of kit and with FM in situ, here's my latest career which will continue even when FM18 is on the scene. Comments as always welcomed.

Thanks in advance,

Mark
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In The Beginning

I always wanted to be a football manager, really, I always wanted to oversee my own professional football team.

Ever since I was knee high to a grasshopper, as my father used to say, I have been always been a fan of “the beautiful game”. From trips to watch games all around the country, and kicking a ball in the back garden using jumpers for goalposts – it’s been an addiction that I have found hard to stop. But the chance to test myself tactically was something that I really wanted to live out. Being the guy in that technical area barking out instructions and going apoplectic when a decision didn't go our way, that’s what the dream was.

For me when I wasn't playing, the best way I could achieve it was sitting on my home computer playing such classics as Kevin Toms’ Football Manager, Johnson Scanatron’s The Double or D&H Games’ Football Director. In fact, if there was a new football game out I’d save up all my pocket money and buy it or ask my parents and grandparents to get it me as it was guaranteed to keep me content and happy. The number of hours I spent on that Commodore 64 home computer when I wasn't doing my homework or kicking a ball in the street or park, were literally endless.

Now I sit here living out the dream after knee injuries curtailed my dreams of pulling on the green and white hoops of Dad’s beloved Celtic, the red and white stripes of Mam’s Sunderland or the blue and white of my home town of Hartlepool, by playing advanced versions of those games mentioned above. I’ll often sit there thinking elaborate strategies to try and outwit the best in the business and think I am the number one manager in the world. I'm still going mental when a defensive slip in the last minute either sees my team concede an equaliser and drop two points or it adds another notch into the defeat column. It’s like I am there.

I'm also doing the opposite when we score those crucial winners in “Fergie Time”, and have been known to inflict carpet burns on my poor knees when sliding across the living room in celebration or grinning away like a Cheshire Cat when the team you’re “managing” have just crushed your biggest rivals comprehensively such as Celtic going into Ibrox and defeating Rangers something like 6-0 with a complete master-class of a performance. It’s my release, a release from outside the real world where you just want to immerse yourself in your sporting fantasies.

There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just a dream and anyway most dreams don’t come true, do they?
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Uncertainty


As long as I have watched Hartlepool United, the word uncertainty is like common place in the Poolie fan vocabulary whether it be in the years of applying and re-applying for re-election for Football League membership. “Pools” hold the record of 14 times between the years of 1924 and 1984, an unwanted record that nobody could ever want but each time they went up for re-election they got enough “votes” to stay in.

With that came the equal uncertainly of who was going to be manager, seldom did you see someone stick around for more a year in the dark times unless you were Billy Horner (famous for his Datsun car) who actually had two spells at the Club taking in a remarkable 307 games over that time. These days unless you are the unique Sir Alex Ferguson or legends like Sir Matt Busby, Bill Shankly or Bob Paisley that would never happen as owners of clubs are not forgiving when results go a bit on the slide. This is very common when it comes to those clubs who have overseas owners.

Anyway Pools had pulled off “The Great Escape” at the end of the 2014-15 under the remarkable tutelage of former Rotherham United and Tranmere Rovers manager Ronnie Moore. Hopes were high then the following season that Moore would continue with it and Pools would continue their ascent back towards getting into the third tier of English professional football after being just eight minutes away from a remarkable promotion to the second tier in 2004-05 when their hearts were broken by then fallen giants Sheffield Wednesday 4-2 after extra time at the Millennium Stadium in the principality; Cardiff.

Yet Moore’s second campaign was less than successful than his first, which ultimately led to his departure by “mutual consent” on 10 February 2016. Moore’s replacement was former Middlesbrough midfielder Craig Hignett on his first ever full-time role as a boss. Considering he was a rookie, just like former team-mate Colin Cooper, the Pools fans again had that word uncertainty in their minds. Well who wouldn't, especially when you really wanted someone with a bit more experience on their belt. Pools finished 16th after again flirting with danger which contributed to Moore’s departure methinks.

Another thing Pools fans have had to have uncertainty over was the general running of the club. Never the most financially funded club around, Pools have come close on many any occasion to going out of business. The Garry Gibson years where the extravagant and flamboyant chairman almost did just that, only for local businessman Harold Hornsey to step in and save the club when it looked like the doors of “The Vic” would be closed for good. Hornsey was subsequently out bought by Aberdeen based investors Increased Oil Recovery (IOR) in 1997 and Ken Hodcroft (owner of IOR) became chairman. Hodcroft was never the charismatic chairman and one that some fans never liked. Yet as years passed, the relationship between Hodcroft and the supporters became more and more strained despite IOR seeing the clubs ongoing debt rise season after season.

Hodcroft “sold” Pools in December 2014 to a consortium known as THM 2014 yet when stories started to surface that the new owners weren't who they were supposed to be, he pulled the plug on the deal causing again more uncertainty for the long-suffering support at “The Vic”. Eventually Pools found new investors in the shape of lesser known recruitment firm JPNG fronted by Gary Coxall whom Hodcroft wrote off all IOR’s debts to.

However, what was to happen next?
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The Phone Call


It was just a standard June afternoon off work for me, basically lounging around and watching a cricket Test match on the television. Sandwiches made, bottle of Diet Coke at the side, and feet up – just like being there in a sense. Listening to the enthusiastic Lancastrian tones of David “Bumble” Lloyd and the draconian nasal ones of former England captain Nasser Hussain, that was the plan of action for the day ahead. I had got everything planned out, even after the cricket was done with then I’d be tuning into the Poland – Portugal Euro 2016 quarter final in the evening. Perfection you could quite easily say.

Then I got a text off a friend which read: “Looks like Pools are getting rid of Hignett.” – so I quickly flicked the channel to Sky Sports News and there it was. Across the ticker at the bottom of the screen it read, “Sky Sources – Craig Hignett leaves Hartlepool” but nothing else in terms of an article being read out so I left it be and turned back over to the cricket again. Then came another text: “He’s gone. WTF?” So, I flicked the channel back, nothing of the sort and texted back: “You’re having me on, there’s nothing on SSN.” The reply was immediate: “Honest he’s gone, perhaps it hasn’t been released yet.” Therefore, I logged onto the laptop and loaded up Pools website, nothing there so I left it be like a well-pitched up delivery from James Anderson coming in at you at 85 miles per hour past the edge of the bat.

1:00pm, lunch at the cricket and time to chill for 40 minutes before the afternoon session started. I’d had no more texts as regards this so-called story about Hignett which increased my thoughts about it being a total fallacy. Back onto SSN to catch up on the latest other sporting events but there it was on the ticker: “Craig Hignett leaves Hartlepool by mutual consent.” So, the text was right then, back to the laptop and the story was confirmed as true. Hignett had only been in charge like four and a half months and was now being replaced. Then my mobile rang:

“Hello Mark.”
“Oh, hello Ronnie, how are you?” I replied, to Ronnie - my unofficial like second “Dad”
“Not so bad son, what are you doing with yourself today like?”
“Watching the Test match then the football tonight. You?”
“Can I come down to Sheffield and pick you up? Got something important to deal with.”
“OK I’ll text you my address, expect you about 3pm ish?”
“Yeah, see you soon and put your suit on.”

And that was that, so it got me thinking. One, why was Ronnie driving down to see me and even more curiously: why do I have to have my suit on when he arrives. Absolutely mystifying. Time ticked on and dead on 3pm, the intercom buzzed – Ronnie had arrived. I’d got my suit on as instructed earlier though. I locked up and made my way outside to where Ronnie was in his car, he popped his head out of the driver’s window: “Hop in son.” So I did, put the seatbelt on and away we went. Yet Ronnie was being cautious even when I asked him why I was in a car with him and looking suited and booted as if I was going for a job interview or some kind of party or wedding reception. Something strange was happening and I didn’t know what. Even when I queried him about the dismissal of Hignett he was very unusually defensive in his answer: “Oh, he wasn’t the right fit for the Club son.”
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The Surprise


Just after 5pm we arrived back in Hartlepool but not to his house, but direct to Victoria Park. I then caught him text something but couldn’t exactly make it out as the mobile was so close to his chest as if it was a top-secret military operation. Then a familiar face came out of the club offices, it was Kate - Ron’s daughter. We got out of the car, and walked through the main entrance to a room behind strangely marked “Manager’s Office”. My eyes swivelled from side to side in more curiosity as both Ronnie and Kate left me in there, alone. I wasn’t alone for long, a matter of minutes when another bloke walked in. I immediately stood up, and the man introduced himself.

“Mark, isn’t it? Hello, I’m Gary Coxall – the chairman of Hartlepool United.” And immediately put his right hand out for a shake.
I shook it. “Yes, it is Gary, pleased to meet you.”

Gary walked around the far end of the table where a whiteboard was on the wall behind him. “Please be seated Mark.” So, I did, still wondering why I was at The Vic on a Thursday teatime in the summer.

“I bet you are sat here wondering what you are doing here.” Gary said.
I chuckled a little. “That’s probably an understatement. Maybe the understatement of the day.”
“Well you’re probably aware that we parted company with Craig (Hignett) this morning. He had a few family issues to deal with and thought it might convenience his job here so we agreed to mutual part company with each other.”
“But why does this concern me?“ I queried.
“Ronnie told me that you’ve always been a football fanatic and a keen student of the game. So, how would you like to be in charge of the club you spent many a season on the terraces? In other words, succeed Craig as manager of Hartlepool United.”
I was for once, lost for words. “Really? Surely there are more qualified candidates out there Gary? I’ve never managed a professional outfit before bar on a computer game. In fact, the only real managerial experience aside that I have is on Sunday mornings in parks and school fields.”
“Mark, you know what they say about dreams coming true? Well I am going to let you live out your dream. You are going to be the main man here at The Vic, the head honcho, THE BOSS. Now follow me, we’ve got a press conference to do.” And with that we both got up, and scurried off to another room where a selection of the Fourth Estate were keenly awaiting our arrival. To me, s**t just kinda got real.

I had never been so nervous in my life, well apart from the day I gave my sister away at her wedding.
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The Press Conference


I’d watched many football managers do press conferences on the television before. Whether it be a managerial appointment, the unveiling of a new signing or giving a pre-game or post-game interview. Now it was time for me to be part of that myself, I was to be sat at that top table with microphones and dictaphones thrust in my face and the glare of flashing lights coming from photographers clicking away at their target – you. It certainly felt surreal.

Gary took the lead naturally. “Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for attending here late on a Thursday afternoon. As you know Hartlepool United had to part company with Craig Hignett today due to personal reasons which Craig has to deal with away from football and that was a tough decision especially when we thought we had the perfect enthusiastic young manager in place. But we move on, and in his place, we have an equally enthusiastic young manager sat to my left. May I present to you the new manager of Hartlepool United Football Club, Mark Duell.”

The cameras clicked collectively again, and I inched closer to the range of microphones ready for my first question. Predictably enough, it came from a man I considered a close friend too: Nick Loughlin of The Northern Echo:

NL: Mark, how does it feel to be announced as the new manager of Hartlepool United? A club you have supported since you were a boy.
MD: It’s basically a dream come true Nick, it really is. Not many times do these happens but when they do then it gives you that an extra special buzz. It’s your hometown team, a team who you’ve watched experience success and failure over the years and you want to make the town proud of you and the club as a whole. When you’re winning it’s the best feeling in the world ever but go on a losing run, particularly here, then you feel the heat more than ever especially when some of them giving you the hell are people you’ve known for years.” Next up was David Craig of Sky Sports.
DC: What can the Hartlepool fans expect from you?
MD: I want to bring entertainment, and a football team that the town of Hartlepool can smile about. Entertainment comes with playing expansive football, creating chances and scoring goals whilst remaining focused at the back. If you do these simple things, you win football matches and as this is a result based industry then you stay in a job. The board then are enthused that they have made a shrewd appointment, the fans keep coming and tell their friends to come too. You build your reputation up and get noticed. It’s a win-win situation David.
Following on from that, Liam Kennedy of the local paper the Hartlepool Mail had the next question.
LK: You come into the role following on Craig Hignett’s sudden departure this morning. However, you do not have any managerial experience to note of. The fans are obviously going to be concerned about this, does it worry you?
MD: Craig came into the role at a tough time and kept the club alive when it looked bleak. However, he has his own issues to deal with and I’m not going to comment on those as they are none of my business. Yes of course, the fans are going to be thinking: “Oh my, we’ve got another inexperienced manager in.” and that’s understandable. But you know something, I believe in my own abilities and that I can turn that thought from a negative to a positive given time and patience. Gary (Coxall) obviously sees something in me, despite my lack of experience, and has told me that he will give me that time and patience to build something here and that is the ultimate plan.
Loughlin then came back into the fray.
NL: You saw the squad last season; tomorrow morning will be the first time you’ve seen them with the managerial coat on. Is there anything you have already picked upon?
MD: I think that’s too early to say to be honest. We have a good bunch of professionals here at The Vic and each of one them will know they have impress again like as if they have just started out on the journey. Obviously there will be gaps here and there which we need to address as a football club but those gaps will be filled. We only want the best here, and performances of the same standard. Tomorrow will give me a look at what we need, and then the hard work begins. It will be tough but if you can’t deal with it then you might as well pack your bags and go home to stand in the cold and harsh realities of an unemployment office queue waiting for the chance to be employed. Having done that myself, it isn’t a nice place to be in.

Coxall then concluded the conference thanking everyone for their attendance and we went out into the late evening sunshine for a few photographs in the Cyril Knowles Stand before it was time to get back into Ronnie’s car, drive back down to Sheffield for more clothes, and back to his house for a cuppa and a rest up. Tomorrow morning at Maiden Castle, the hard work really began.
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First Impressions


Less than 12 hours later finally settled in life at Ronnie’s; living in the spare room; I was dressed in tracksuit manager mode at Hartlepool United’s training ground. University of Durham, Maiden Castle. I had been there briefly when I saw “Pools” train under Chris Turner’s first spell as an open invitation to all fans but this time the man organising anything out on the pitches was ME. In a royal blue Nike tracksuit and my white boots, I always liked to wear colourful boots as soon as they became a fashion, I stood in the middle of a very large circle of seasoned professionals and enthusiastic youngsters introducing myself and explaining my ambitions for the Club.

I looked at what I had to deal with and what the shortcomings were.

• No left-back apart from Sean Kavanagh and he was on loan from Championship side Fulham. The only one available was a 17-year-old unproven prospect, James Martin.
• No recognised right winger bar young Jack Blackford who is a talent I believe needs nurturing carefully.
• No real cover for Nathan Thomas on the left wing, possibly Blackford but for reasons above.
• No scouting system in place. No Chief Scout, no nothing. (Is it any wonder where are struggling to find players wanting to play for the Club?)
• One physiotherapist to deal with the whole squad from the professionals to the youngsters. Need to ease the workload on the poor guy.

Five major things.

So; I sat down with my assistant Sam Collins and we got thinking as any good managerial duos do, to find out how to resolve those issues. Gary (Coxall) said we had an initial budget of £25,000 to spend on players plus anything else we could recoup. The problem on the playing side was that the wage bill was a bit on the high side. Would it be prudent to look for loanees, as we only had two on the books in the terms of Kavanagh and young Joe Fryer: a goalkeeper we've acquired from near neighbours Middlesbrough to back-up Northern Ireland internationalist Trevor Carson – Carson in my eyes being the best goalkeeper in the entire League Two.

It wasn't going to be easy, but then again things never are made easy. We might have to take a few faces in on trial too and play them in pre-season and hope they impress enough so we can afford to bring them in permanently. So much to do. Now I really know why they call football management: “the hot seat”. It’s that hot and uncomfortable, it feels like my bum is already on fire! Hopefully I will be able to find the extinguisher somewhere and cool it down. Because I am going to need it, and the backing of many a person out there to get me through this.

I've certainly got a challenge and a half in front of me.
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Enjoy the stories that are written like this, this one included!

Best of luck
Sometimes you have to stand in the shadows; to see the light.

OYSTON OUT
Just prepping and typing up the latest update. Should be uploaded and on-line in the next few days.

Thanks for the heartening words @Suffolk Seasider - hopefully no laptop crashes this time out.
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New Faces


Well despite knowing where my shortcomings were at the Club, I placed a few adverts out to improve the backroom staff and I’m quite happy with what I got in return. That said I do feel if I need to add a few extra bodies into the off-pitch team then I can do so.
I’ve managed to secure us a recognised goalkeeper coach which takes the strain off the existing members of staff. Joining Pools as our goalkeeper coach is Andy Leaning.

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Specialist Goalkeeper Coach: Andy Leaning

Before hanging his gloves up so to speak, Andy had a 15-year playing career accumulating 223 league appearances with York City, Sheffield United and Bristol City amongst the six professional sides he played for. He has been goalkeeping coach at Leeds United, York and Chesterfield so I am sure that his experience will be of major benefit to Trevor Carson and the young shot stoppers we have here at Hartlepool.

I’ve also eased the workload on Ian “Buster” Gallagher. “Buster” was the head physio for the Club which meant he was dealing with injuries of players from the first team to the Under 18s. So, I have acquired a second physio in the shape of who comes highly recommended and Ian has said to me in confidence how much this was needed and he looks forward to working with him.
We now have a bit of a scouting network in place and will look to enhance this as weeks pass. Whilst the board want the scouting to primarily focus on players here in the UK; I will obviously try and convince Mr Coxall to see if he can let us get a scout who will be tasked to look into the ever-promising Nordic market where some decent players are being produced. But we have made strides and now have a couple of scouts here after all.

Our Chief Scout is the former Republic of Ireland defender Paul Butler.

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Chief Scout: Paul Butler

Paul is 43, and had a career too as a no nonsense central defender. He made a total almost 600 league appearances over a 16 year span, the majority of them being spent at Wolves and Leeds United which he both captained. He also featured for Rochdale, Bury and Sunderland in his career, and was capped by the Republic of Ireland. What struck me about Paul was his enthusiasm for the role and I am pleased we have managed to secure his services here. Under Paul, we have Alan Moore who is a name well known up here in the North East for his time at Middlesbrough, being nicknamed as “The Ryan Giggs of the North-East” after certain displays. 41-year-old Alan was capped eight times for the Republic of Ireland but his playing career was stuttered due to knee injuries.

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Scout: Alan Moore

I’ve also brought in Luke Anthony to the Club to assist Ian “Buster” Gallagher as second physiotherapist. Luke, up to June 2015, was physiotherapist at Reading: a role he held for eight years. He’s had a year out and now feels refreshed to come back into the game here at Victoria Park. I look forward to working with the guys, old and new.
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Analysis

Not much to report about Pools’ friendly under new manager Mark Duell today as they laboured to a goalless draw with Isthmian Premier Division side Harlow Town. Chances were at a premium through but when they did fall then they came Pools way, Padraig Amond failed to hit the target with the goal gaping in front of him twice and Billy Paynter saw his shot brilliantly pushed around the post by Harry Reynolds in the home net. Pools biggest scare of the day came in the 27th minute when Nicky Featherstone misdirected a header in front of goal but luckily for all, Trevor Carson managed to scramble across to prevent the own goal.

Line-Up

Hartlepool United [4-1-4-1]: Carson (Fryer 57); Magnay © (Donnelly 57), Harrison (Bates HT), Jones (Pollock 51), Kavanagh (Richards 69); Featherstone; Alessandra (Oates 62), Woods (Walker 51), Deverdics (Hawkins 57), Thomas; Paynter (Amond HT). Unused substitutes: Rodney, Rooney, Orrell.
Man Of The Match: Harry Reynolds (Harlow Town)

The Manager's Post-Game Reaction

“A very disappointing performance it has to be said this afternoon. It felt like a Sunday morning kickabout in Grayfields or Rift House Rec to be honest. Neither side fashioned anything to write home about to be honest; and a draw was probably the best result you could ask for. I asked the players to put something in so we are ready when the season starts but it was just flat. I think Nicky (Featherstone) will be buying Trevor (Carson) a drink though, great reactions from the big guy and that’s why he’s been called up for his country a few times. But we’ll go back to the training ground this week and work on a few bits so we’re ready to go again in our next friendly.”
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Back to School


I'm going back to school in a sense.

Knowing full well that my coaching badges are not up to date, I've managed to convince Gary (Coxall) that I need to personally improve my coaching techniques. So I have started, as of tomorrow, to study for my Continental A licence. It's going to take 12 months but will help me become a better manager and coach as a whole. Gary's backing me with the Club stumping up the course fee, so that's £3,000 of my own money saved and I'm grateful for it.

The club have also decided to fund the course fees for Sam Collins and John Hewitson's Continental Pro licences too which I hope to study for once I have my "A" licence.

Busy times ahead methinks.
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15 July 2016

Pools make first signing


Hartlepool United made their first signing of the summer on the eve of their second pre-season friendly at Ebbsfleet United, by snapping up full-back Kane Lewis on a free transfer.

Prior to joining Pools, Lewis came through the ranks at League One side Walsall but failed to make a league appearance for the Saddlers, and now comes to Victoria Park to kickstart his career. The 18 year old is the first recruit under new manager Mark Duell. Duell had this to say about his new signing:

"I'm delighted today to unveil Kane (Lewis) as a Hartlepool United player. He has come through the Walsall academy which has produced players such as Northern Ireland internationalist Will Grigg and current Watford captain Troy Deeney. However he couldn't make the breakthrough there and is willing to make an impact here. I'm sure he has the ability to do just that and be forcing my hand sooner rather than later for a first team place. We needed another option at left-back and Kane provides us with that. He's definitely one we have plans for the future."

The new signing is equally excited to join:

"First of all, I would like to thank the manager for bringing me here to Hartlepool. It's a new chapter in my career and I honestly can't wait to get started on the training pitch. Having been at Walsall since I was 9, and come through the academy ranks it was a disappointment to be released but Hartlepool obviously see something in me and it's great to feel wanted by everyone. I just hope that I can push on and make an impression. It's a good move for me."

You can see Kane's first interview as a Hartlepool United player by clicking HERE

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16 July 2016

Blades bag Bradley

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United today announced the signing of right-back Mark Bradley on a free transfer.

Bradley, 28, joins the Blades as a free agent after missing the entire 2015-16 season. A once-capped Welsh internationalist, Bradley started his career at Walsall where he made 95 appearances for the Saddlers after breaking into the first team at end of the 2004-05 campaign. His most recent club was near neighbours Rotherham United where he had another 91 league outings over another five season spell but was sidelined with injury for a few periods of time.

Mark had contract offers from Peterborough United, Gillingham and Hartlepool United but we're happy he's become a Blade. Welcome to Beautiful Downtown Bramall Lane Mark.
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Analysis

Hartlepool United slipped to defeat at Ebbsfleet in their second pre-season outing of the new campaign. The home side were ahead after just 33 seconds on the clock, experienced midfielder Adam Drury split open the Pools defence and journeyman striker Aaron McLean took a couple of touches before firing the ball beyond Joe Fryer in the visitors net. The lead was doubled in the 13th minute and once again, Pools defensive frailities were exposed. McLean this time was the provider for strike partner Danny Kedwell to slot past the exposed Fryer. Pools tightened up after this, and pulled one back midway through the second half when Michael Woods' attempted cross was deflected into the path of Billy Paynter and he made no mistake with a low finish past James Severn in the Fleet goal. Try as they might, Pools couldn't find an equaliser and Fleet held on for the victory.

Line-Up

Hartlepool United [4-4-2]: Fryer; Donnelly, Bates © (Jones 64), Pollock (Harrison 50), Kavanagh (Magnay 50); Orrell (Richards 72), Featherstone (Hawkins 72), Woods (Walker 72), Thomas (Rodney 56 (Deverdics 72)); Oates (Paynter 50), Alessandra (Amond 50). Unused Substitutes: Carson, Rooney.

Man of the Match: Aaron McLean (Ebbsfleet United)

The Manager's Post-Game Reaction

"That was more disappointing than the goalless draw with Harlow to be honest. We switched off as soon as we kicked off and to concede two goals in the first 14 minutes, never mind one in the opening 33 seconds, is inexcusable to say the least. Safe to say I was far from happy at half time and I made sure the lads knew about it; call it the Sir Alex Ferguson hairdryer treatment if you want to. We competed a bit better in the second half but have to improve and tighten up. That said, results are not the important thing in pre-season as it's all about getting a team to gel and develop understandiings. We seem to have picked up a couple of knocks to Matthew (Bates) and Nathan (Thomas) respectively too. I don't know how bad they are but Matthew's looks very serious indeed. Buster says he will know more in 24 hours so let's see on that."

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17 July 2017

Double injury woes for Pools

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Pools are today counting the cost of the 2-1 loss on Saturday at Ebbsfleet as two important first team players are on the injured list.

Manager Mark Duell must do without central defender Matthew Bates and winger Nathan Thomas who limped out of Saturday's defeat, with Bates leaving the ground on crutches. Duell explains:

"Unfortunately we have picked a couple of knocks as I thought after the game on Saturday, and now both Matthew and Nathan have been assessed by our superb physiotherapists here. The news on Nathan is not as bad as we first feared. When he came off, he was in a fair bit of pain but we're lucky in the sense it's only a bruised thigh muscle which will prevent him from training for 2-3 days but will rule him out of the home friendly against Northampton Town on Tuesday night.

As for Matthew, we have been less than lucky. You saw how he left the ground on crutches, well the diagnosis has come back and he's suffered a damaged cruciate ligament - something which I did in my teens. It's going to be a long hard road back for him, and we won't be seeing him feature in the First Team for quite a while. "Buster" (Ian Gallagher), our head physiotherapist estimates that Matthew will be out of action for at least 10 months to a year with this injury. It's terrible news for Matthew, as he was definitely looking forward to the new season ahead only now to see these hopes dashed so cruelly. As a Club we will give him all the support and treatment to ensure he makes a full recovery. We're devastated for him especially as this is the sixth time he's picked up this same unfortunate injury.

I've already started to think about what to do and have made a few enquiries, getting some cover at centre half now becomes a priority for us."
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19 July 2016

Baldacchino becomes signing number two

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Hartlepool United this morning completed the signing of experienced winger Ryan Baldacchino.

The 35 year old was without a club and Pools will hope that his signing will be a more than useful one on the wing this season. Baldacchino started his career as a trainee at Blackburn Rovers in 1996 but failed to make a league appearance for the Lancashire side, and joined local rivals Bolton Wanderers in 2000. Despite being a reserve team regular, he was unable to shift players such as Jay-Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff from the Wanderers team and after 18 months moved north to Carlisle United where he got his first team bow. After just 23 games with the Cumbrians, the Brooks Mileson funded Gretna prised him away.

His move to Gretna proved to be a successful one as he was a vital cog which saw the team rise from what is now Scottish League Two to the Scottish Premiership where he was reputedly once a Celtic target but that never came to fruition. After Gretna's unfortunate fall from grace in 2008, the winger moved to Australia where he played for a handful of lower league sides. Now back in England, the Leicester born winger is hoping to help fire Pools back into the third tier for the first time since they were relegated from it in 2012-13. Pools manager Mark Duell is happy with his second acquisition:

"I'm very pleased today to welcome Ryan to Hartlepool United.

He's a busy and very industrious winger who has a great deal of experience behind him and that is a major asset for us here. He might be 35 but Ryan has looked after himself well, and is good condition. He still has some of that pace and trickery which he showed at Gretna, and that will be vital in our seasonal ambitions. I am sure that his signing will be an asset to the Club and the fans will soon appreciate that as much as I do."

The new signing had this to say:

"I'm very pleased to return to England and sign for Hartlepool. The manager sold this club to me so well, it was impossible to say no. I feel like I still have something to offer and will be doing my very best to help Pools this season. I am looking forward to this challenge immensely."

Duell also admitted that Baldacchino's signing will not be the last.

"Ryan is my second signing and won't be my last. I've still got my targets set on some loan deals and am hopeful I can make some inroads with them. We have a team target here this season and we will be pulling out all the proverbial stops to make sure that happens. A depth squad will achieve that and that's what I am looking to have, with competition for places all over the pitch."

Pools have received international clearance for Baldacchino and he could feature in tonight's home friendly against Northampton Town which kicks off at 7:45pm, it is a pay on the gate game.
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Analysis


On a summer's evening in North-East England, League One side Northampton Town came out on top in their friendly at Hartlepool. They took the lead in the 23rd minute when striker Sam Hoskins showed why he is so highly rated by the Sixfields hierarchy with an incredible strike. Picking the ball up in deep, he bamboozled his way past Pools defender Liam Donnelly before unleashing a terrific effort from outside the area which Trevor Carson had no chance of saving. Pools drew level nine minutes later, Nicky Deverdics with a superb cross and striker Billy Paynter fired the ball low past Cobblers keeper David Cornell. The visitors got the winner in the 68th minute when experienced winger Matt Taylor curled in a wicked cross to the far post and substitute Keshi Anderson nodded past Carson with Pools ball watching. The home side pushed for a second equaliser after that but ran short of ideas as time ran out.

Line-Up

Hartlepool United [4-4-2]: Carson; Magnay © (Richards 67), Harrison (Assenso 61), Donnelly (Jones 61), Kavanagh (Pollock 67); Baldacchino (Thomas 56), Featherstone (Hawkins 67), Walker (Woods 61), Deverdics (Orrell 67); Paynter (Rodney 67), Amond (Alessandra 56). Unused Substitutes: Oates, Fryer.

Man of the Match: Sam Hoskins (Northampton Town)

The Manager's Post-Game Reaction

"It's always a tough pill to swallow when you've battled hard all game and come away with nothing. We showed flashes of improvement but credit where it is due goes to Justin (Edinburgh) and his team for a performance which we can learn from. There are some positives though in the sense that we can compete but need to be that bit more clinical in our decision making if we are going to get anywhere this season as we were definitely ball watching for their winning goal - you have to be alert for 90 minutes otherwise you get what happened tonight to you. Ryan (Baldacchino) had a quiet beginning but that's to be expected when he's joined up with the squad just this morning. Perhaps it was a mistake of mine to throw him straight into the firing line but he will get up to speed sooner rather than later. All in all, the result doesn't worry me as it's all about getting the team to gel and settle down as a squad before the real thing comes around soon."
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20 July 2016

Two in and one out

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Hartlepool United completed another busy day in the transfer market when they brought in two highly rated Premier League midfielders to the Club, and on the same day bid farewell to on-loan Northern Irish striker Louis Rooney who has returned to Plymouth Argyle.

Arriving at the Vic are Liverpool attacking midfielder Adam Phillips and Tottenham's Slovakian playmaker Filip Lesinak. Phillips, 18, is a promising talent who was recommended to the Club by scout Alan Moore on his travels and comes with a lot of potential. Lesniak, 20, is also a highly rated talent who is on the fringes of the Tottenham team and the grandson of former Czechslovakia national team boss Ján Kozák which shows how much of a steeped pedigree he comes with. Both will add competition to the midfield engine room which has Michael Woods, Brad Walker, Nicky Featherstone and Nicky Deverdics at manager Mark Duell's disposal.

The manager had this to say about his latest recruits, the departure of Rooney and what else is happening as regards player recruitment:

"This morning I am pleased to bring both Adam (Phillips) and Filip (Lesinak) to the Club on season long loans.

We're very grateful to both Liverpool and Tottenham to allow two very talented players to join us here at the Vic and we hope that they will settle into a competitive squad which we are building for the season ahead. Both are midfielders and increase the options I have at my disposal here. Adam is a very attack minded midfielder who loves to create things in the final third and that's an ability we hope we can see him use to our advantage this season. Filip prefers to sit back and dictate the play from deep which is of stark comparison to Adam but with the background he has; we know we have secured a player who has the ability to go on to good things. If he does, we can say we played a part in this development.

I've also taken the decision to terminate Louis Rooney's deal here and send him back to Plymouth. It's not that I don't rate the player but I just feel I can't give him the game time and first team chances he deserves. I wish him all the best for the future and hope Plymouth manage to get him something he deserves elsewhere.

I'm still looking into more options to improve the squad, and have almost confirmed a deal for a young and exciting winger to join us on a six month loan deal. We hope we can unveil him tomorrow. As for the central defender search that's still ongoing, it's all about finding the right player for the job and acquiring him at the right time. We won't be rushed into it but we're constantly searching that I can tell you for certain."

Listen to the manager's thoughts in full and from new boys Phillips and Lesinak on Pools Player by clicking HERE
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21 July 2016

Winger Harness flies in

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Hartlepool United today completed the signing of Burton Albion winger Marcus Harness on a six month loan deal.

The 20 year old pacy and tricky winger therefore becomes the fifth new face to arrive at Victoria Park this summer under manager Mark Duell. After coming through the academy ranks at his hometown club Coventry City, Harness signed apprentice forms with Burton ahead of the 2013-14 season and made his first team bow for the Brewers at Scunthorpe in March 2014. Pools boss Duell is delighted with his latest acquisition:

"it's with delight that we have been able to acquire Marcus for Hartlepool United.

Marcus is very tricky and direct winger with excellent pace and crossing ability which is the kind of player I was looking to bring in here. He will be a further option for me on the wings as well as Ryan (Baldacchino) and Nathan (Thomas) and I am very confident he will adapt to League Two like a proverbial duck to water; having played at this level before with Burton. We've taken him on a six month loan deal and both parties are happy with this arrangement.

I'm sure we have another exciting player that will become a fan favourite here."

Harness is happy to have made the switch:

"Knowing that I was on the fringes of the first team at Burton meant I had seek some regular game time elsewhere. When Hartlepool came in for me, I spoke to the gaffer here and he made it clear I could use this to my advantage and I'm glad to join. I'll give the Hartlepool supporters some excitement when they see me in action, and am a natural winger who loves to take his full-back on and getting in a dangerous cross for the strikers. Mark has made it clear that's what he wants me to do so I'm raring to go."

You can listen to our new signing and the manager on Pools Player now by clicking HERE
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Hope you're all enjoying this as much as I am writing it - Mark
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Good stuff so far, @HockeyBhoy!
My Football Manager 2017 career: Journeyman's Journey
More updates coming next week, juggling work and play time in equal measures.
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Analysis

Four goals in as many first half minutes saw a Sunderland Under 23 side coast to an impressive win at Victoria Park. The win was achieved despite the early loss of influential attacking midfielder Lynden Gooch, and must have impressed Elliott Dickman. After Gooch's loss with a knee injury which saw him carried off the pitch on a stretcher, Pools took the lead in the 23rd minute when former Sunderland trainee Scott Harrison's punt forward found Lewis Alessandra and he squared the ball for Padraig Amond to tuck the ball beyond Michael Woud. If the home fans thought that was the precursor for Pools to kick on, it became a horror show from the 32nd minute onwards. The equaliser came when Elliott Embleton's far post cross was volleyed home by Rees Greenwood and then floodgates really opened. Almost after the restart Pools skipper Carl Magnay was caught out by Jake Hackett and he in turn found Andrew Nelson who tucked the ball beyond Trevor Carson, and within a minute the young striker had his second; latching onto an Embleton ball forward to shrug off Harrison and finish confidently. The game was beyond Pools in the 36th minutes, Daniel Wright's floated free-kick caught out Carson and Alex Storey had the simple task putting it into the empty net.


Line-Up

Hartlepool United [4-4-2]: Carson (Bartlett 65); Magnay © (Donnelly 61), Harrison (Pollock 61), Kavanagh; Alessandra (Harness 61), Lesniak (Deverdics 65), Walker (Phillips 61), Thomas (Baldacchino 65); Paynter (Rodney 61), Amond (Oates 67). Unused Substitutes: Orrell, Featherstone, Woods.

Man of the Match: Elliot Embleton (Sunderland Under 23's)

The Manager's Post-Game Reaction

"I simply have no words after that game, I really don't. For half an hour we looked okay then we just went to pieces and conceded four goals of which I think we could have avoided at all costs, they were terrible goals to let in on a Sunday morning never mind a pre-season friendly. We took our goal well but that's no excuse for what our fans have seen today, they deserve far much better than this. I'm hoping for a reaction in our last pre-season game at Billingham and on the training pitch too, we can't afford to play like that when the real deal starts in a fortnight. If some players think they're in for an easy ride, well today might just cause them to revise that opinion."
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25 July 2016
First Round Draw


This afternoon the first round draw of the Carabao Cup, the competition formerly known as the League Cup back in its inception, was made at the National Football Museum in Preston, As always there are many appetising ties and none more so than a Nottingham derby as County entertain Forest at Meadow Lane. Aston Villa who finished bottom of the Premiership last season face a potentially awkward trip to the Checkatrade.com Stadium in Crawley, whilst Mansfield Town face Leeds United who won this trophy as far back as 1968. There are local derbies at Bramall Lane as the Blades entertain Chesterfield and also at the Keepmoat Stadium when Doncaster Rovers entertain Huddersfield Town. 2002 winners Blackburn Rovers face an uncertain trip to the North East as they go to League Two side Hartlepool United

Some selected fixtures:
Notts County v Nottingham Forest
HARTLEPOOL UNITED v Blackburn Rovers
Oldham Athletic v Sheffield Wednesday
Crawley Town v Aston Villa
Cardiff City v AFC Wimbledon
Millwall v Southend United

Ties will be played in the week commencing 9 August 2016, with games selected for TV coverage to be advised in the next few days.
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31 July 2016
Group Stage Draw


Hartlepool United today found out who they will entertain in their Checkatrade.com group. Pools have been drawn in an intriguing group that features League One sides Port Vale and Walsall plus the Under 23 team of Premiership Champions Leicester City. With the top two sides qualifying for the second round stage, Hartlepool manager Mark Duell thinks his side have a decent chance of making some progress.

"In the past I'd never say I was a huge fan of this competition but you have take chances like this when they come around. We've got a good group and I am quite confident in my own mind that we can actually go on and make some headway in it. We might not win the trophy, nobody expects us to do so, but if we can make the second phase then you quite easily progress and the further you go then you get to dream that bit more. We'll be treating each game with respect and if we do that, we can believe. It's not beyond us."

Group stages start the week commencing 30 August 2017.
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31 July 2016

Young Hammers defender arrives

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Hartlepool United made their sixth signing of the summer when they secured the loan signing of West Ham United defender Josh Pask.

The 6'2 centre half has joined Pools on a loan deal which is to last until to end of the season, and helps fill a gap left by the unfortunate injury experienced by Matthew Bates. A graduate of the famed Hammers "Academy Of Football", Pask has experience of playing at this level when he featured in five games for Dagenham and Redbridge on a two month loan spell last season so is well versed and accustomed as what to expect for the season ahead. Pools manager Mark Duell is pleased to have such a talent on board.

"It's with great pleasure that I have here with me today, our sixth new face of the season.

Losing a player such as Matthew (Bates) was a tough position on the pitch to fill but in Josh I think I have the perfect choice after all the searching we have been doing. We've looked at many players, made offers to them and their clubs but none impressed me as much as Josh and the way he conducted himself throughout the whole process. He took his time about it, and which player wouldn't do, but we're happy to welcome him here to the Vic. It's a long way from home for a young man, but he wants to make a success out of it. You can't ask for anything more than this."

The youngster is delighted to have made the switch:

"For a young player at my age if I want to make the professional ranks, then I have to take up opportunities elsewhere when it comes to be. I've come through the academy at West Ham and it's now time to get some serious first team experience under my belt. I enjoyed my two month spell at Dagenham last season but this is a season where I have a full year to show West Ham and most importantly the fans here in Hartlepool that Josh Pask is a talented footballer. It's the furthest I've had to come to play my football but you know something, you have to move away from the norm and take chances in different environments. I'm committed to Mark and the Club here, and hope the fans will appreciate what I plan to bring to the proverbial table. Bring on the challenge is all I can say."

You can listen to our new signing and the manager on Pools Player now by clicking HERE
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31 July 2016

2016-17 Squad Numbers Announced

Shortly after the unveiling of new signing Josh Pask, Pools manager Mark Duell confirmed the squad numbers being worn this season:

GOALKEEPERS:
1. Trevor CARSON
13. Adam BARTLETT
31. Ben DUDZINSKI
41. Ryan CATTERICK
42. Joe FRYER (On loan from Middlesbrough)

DEFENDERS:
2. Carl MAGNAY - Captain
3. Sean KAVANAGH (On loan from Fulham)
5. Rob JONES - Vice Captain
6. Matthew BATES
16. Ben POLLOCK
19. Jordan RICHARDS
21. Josh NEARNEY
26. Scott HARRISON
29. James MARTIN
32. Josh PASK (On loan from West Ham United)
33. Liam DONNELLY
35. Issac ASSENSO

MIDFIELDERS:
4. Nicky FEATHERSTONE
7. Nathan THOMAS
8. Brad WALKER
12. Filip LESINAK (On loan from Tottenham Hotspur)
14. Martin WOODS
17. Nicky DEVERDICS
18. Lewis HAWKINS
20. Jake ORRELL
22. Adam PHILLIPS (On loan from Liverpool)
24. Kieran GREEN
27. Jack BLACKFORD
28. Ryan BALDACCHINO
30. Marcus HARNESS (On loan from Burton Albion)

STRIKERS:
9. Pádraig AMOND
10. Billy PAYNTER
11. Rhys OATES
15. Lewis ALESSANDRA
23. Connor SMITH
38. Devante RODNEY

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Analysis

Hartlepool United completed their pre-season preparations with a comfortable 3-0 win at Billingham. Pools were ahead after just eight minutes on the clock, on-loan midfielder Filip Lesniak ghosting in unchallenged to slot the ball home from near on the penalty spot after some exceptional play on the left wing by Nicky Deverdics. It became 2-0 in the 28th minute, Deverdics again with the set up and this time it was Pádraig Amond who tucked the ball beyond the exposed Duncan Porter in the Billingham goal. The visitors had more chances in the game and sealed it with three minutes left, substitute Marcus Harness skipped away from his marker and tucked the ball back to fellow replacement Rhys Oates who made no mistake whatsoever.


Line-Up

Hartlepool United [4-4-2]: Bartlett; Richards, Donnelly © (Pollock 66), Pask, Kavanagh; Orrell (Harness 61), Lesniak (Featherstone 61), Woods (Phillips 72), Deverdics (Thomas 61); Amond (Oates 61), Alessandra (Rodney 66). Unused Substitutes: Fryer, Paynter, Baldacchino, Jones, Magnay.
Man of the Match: Josh Pask (Hartlepool United)

The Manager's Post-Game Reaction

"That was a lot more like I want to expect from my Hartlepool United team. We controlled the game from the first whistle to the last and deservedly won the game. Sure we play at a higher level than our opponents but you really can only beat what is in front of you; there certainly will be bigger fish to contend with now pre-season is out of the way. Three goals probably doesn't tell the full story and actually flatters Billingham such was our dominance. It's always though nice to come here every season and entertain everyone. We know we can go into the league opener on Saturday afternoon with a bit of confidence behind us. And you know what that can lead to, a good start. I'm very happy man tonight, very happy indeed."
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Pools are ready to go and entertain - Duell

By LIAM KENNEDY
Hartlepool United reporter


Published: 13:00
Friday 5 August 2016


With the new season just a matter of a day away, can Hartlepool United make this season a season to remember after many a false start? Could this be their time?

At the end of June, Hartlepool United decided to take a massive gamble. They had reluctantly agreed to part ways with then-manager Craig Hignett as the Liverpudlian had "family issues" to contend with and would need his commitments. The gamble for Chairman Gary Coxall was to bring in someone that the fan base had no idea of and give him the chance to make Pools a force again after seasons of mediocrity. The man that Coxalll has placed his trust in is 44 year old local Mark Duell, lured away from a career fixing broadband and telephone systems, and hopefully a man that the Victoria Park support will identify with as "one of their own" determined to make a success out of it.

"I want to entertain." Duell starts as we sit in the August sunshine beaming down into a plastic seat in the Cyril Knowles Stand. "I want to entertain and get this club of ours back to having a winning feeling after all we have been through in the last few seasons. We're ready to go out there and entertain you!

For as long as I can remember, Pools supporters have been starved of success on a regular basis. Now is the time to change this mentality, the town deserves to have a successful club side and that's what I want to make happen. We've been the poor relation in the shadows of the big three around here, and it saddens me to say that. Equally it saddens me to walk around this wonderful town and see people wearing shirts from Newcastle, both Manchester clubs, Liverpool and Arsenal for example. You want to see people walking around, heads high and with a Pools shirt on their backs saying: "I'm proud to come from Hartlepool and I'm proud to be a Poolie!" That's the big challenge I want us to make inroads into and we can do that together, and if we have a side that entertains then who knows what we can do.

The players we have, new and existing, are a great bunch of lads. They've knuckled down from the first day I came across them and are always striving to get better. They want to be here, they want to be successful, they don't want to be seen as a bunch of players only good enough to play for poor little Hartlepool. They encourage each other when things are tough, they don't cower and surrender meekly because they know I won't stand for it. They have respect.

We start our season tomorrow at home to Colchester, and it's the first of 46 Cup Finals. Get off to a winning start and confidence rockets, lose and you have to pick each other up and rebuild. That's how we are going to treat the season ahead. As that team, we win and lose together. Nobody expects us to run away with the league, but if we give it everything we can then the Pools supporters out there will be beaming with pride. That's how I was as a fan. Let's make the town proud, this is the Town's Club, this is our time. Stick with us and cheer us on, be our 12th man. Now are you with me?"

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