But after the first enjoyable hour last Saturday, things were looking up and anyone contemplating our next game and the forthcoming visit, our first ever, to little old Hartlepool wouldn't have been too worried. But then a strange substitution or two and the last 20 minutes was spent in finger biting agony and suddenly nothing looks so simple anymore.
The monkey-hangers, don't ask, finished last season a lowly 19th and after a last day drubbing 4-1 at Bristol Rovers were lucky to hang on to their League One status, finishing on 50 points, a mere point above relegated Northampton with a vastly inferior goal difference, who got nothing in a difficult away game at Leeds.
Ex-Wednesday, Sunderland and Manure goalkeeper Chris Turner ( now aged 50 - doesn't time fly) is currently in charge at the Pool having taken over as caretaker manager last December following the departure of Danny Wilson. This is his second spell in charge at Hartlepool and with 7 new summer signings he's determined to change things around here. Last time round in 1999-2003 he saved them from relegation after taking over at Easter, got them into successive Playoffs (losing in the semis both times) and then left for Sheffield Wednesday just as Pools were heading into Tier Three in the second automatic spot behind Walsall.
For those older members out there Hartlepool will be known for its seemingly eternal fight to stay in the Football League back in the 70's and 80's. Before automatic promotion from the Conference teams had to re-apply for re-election to the Football League in a vote taken by other members of Tier Four. After several years of being voted back in however by this old boys club, an agreement was reached in 1987 that the following year the voting system would end and automatic promotion would take place and somehow the Pool pulled themselves together since then and have survived the drop.
Because of their inevitable flirt with a Conference death sentence every year, Hartlepool share with Lincoln City the embarrassing record of the total number of applications for re-election, 14 in all. But another record that the Pool share with another club is in the total number of successive League games without a win, 18. A number that you may remember from last season because they share the record with... yes, you guessed it, us.
A credible goalless draw at MK Dons last weekend, where Paul Ince was hoping to improve on last years 3rd place, was followed by an even more impressive 1-0 win at Coventry in the League Cup on Wednesday. So two games in and no goals conceded and they'll be dying to arrive at the Victoria Ground, capacity 7691, to get their first 3 points of the season. And you'll be pleased to learn, as you set out on the 262 mile journey to Hartlepool, that last season nobody conceded more goals at home in League One than the Pool with their 40 goals let in. But before you get dreaming of a goalfest with Burton, Gray, McLeod and maybe Dickson all on the scoresheet it has to be pointed out that oddly enough only one team, Leeds, scored more at home as well - Leeds 49, Pool 45. Expect another 5 or 6 goal thriller then.
Who are Yeh
Turner has made 7 new signings during the summer in Neil Austin, Scott Flinders, Peter Hartley, Leon McSweeney, Jon-Andre Fredriksen, Adam Boyd and Denis Behan and six of them walked straight into Pools team last weekend with Adam Boyd getting the goal at Coventry coming on from the bench. Boyd, aged 27, has returned to Pool after adventures at Luton and Orient and when a boy star at the Pool was once valued at one million. He'll start on the bench but keep an eye on him, Parky.
Central defence will be Liddell and and Collins, midfield Fredriksen and Sweeney and the strike force, new boys, McSweeney and Behan. In contrast to the injury worries at the Valley and the supposed logic of fielding the second string for League Cup ties, Turner choose to field at Coventry exactly the same starting eleven as the previous Saturday.
A quiz first of all. Which is the odd one out of this little lot - Wycombe, Luton, Yeovil, Hereford and Hartlepool - Yes, thats right, the Pool are the only one that we beaten in League Cup ties in the last 4 years. And with no League history to look at, the only encounter against the Hartlepool was that League Cup tie in September 2005 which ended, unlike our only Wycombe game, with a 3-1 win. And those were momentous times. After 4 straight league wins we had lost 0-2 the previous weekend at the Valley to Chelski, which if I recall correctly was a top of the table clash. And if you're feeling nostalgic, check it out here. And the following Saturday we continued with another win over WBA in our amazing 4th away win in a row.
Those were the days of Murphy and Smertin, Johansson, Bothroyd, Bartlett and Bent, stop it my eyes are coming over all funny. Goals from Johansson, Bent and Bothroyd won the day.
What Are They Saying
Not surprisingly after a surprise defeat, Parky was quoted yesterday as confirming, "We need new players. What market we shop in remains to be seen. There are players we need to move on and there are players we want to bring in to freshen things up. We're ready to do that when the time is right and we're able to do so."
Whilst up there at the Pool, Chris Turner is explaining his teams first successive clean sheets since October by saying "Its all down to organisational work on the training ground and it starts with the strikers because if they are lazy and don't work then it puts pressure on the midfield and then the back four and thats when chances open up for the opposition."
After a pre-season where we were lucky with injuries, we are now plagued with them. Richardson (hip), Llera (head), Dailly (rib), Shelvey (heel), Sam (knee) were all left out of Tuesdays defeat at Hereford.
The patched-up defence of Solly, Semedo, Youga and Basey kept out Hereford for the whole of normal time on Tuesday, and its surely the inability of the strikers to get a goal in the 2 hours played that is most worrying. Parky followed this up by saying that someone who get goals is a priority.
With the defensive trio of Richardson, Llera and Dailly passed fit then the only doubts appear to be Sam and Shelvey who weren't mentioned in the latest injury report. Sam had a good game last weekend and it was his substitution that appeared to change the game so I expect both him and JonJo to appear in a line-up similar to Wycombe.
Elliot; Richardson, Llera, Dailly, Youga; Sam, Semedo, Shelvey, Racon, Bailey; Burton.
Parky saw the game on Wednesday and was impressed by a hard-working Pool and this looks like another game that will demonstrate exactly how difficult this league is going to be to get out of. I for one will be happy with a 1-1 draw.