PREVIEW: Hartlepool United

Another week, another ex-Football League team for the Fleet – but they’ll go into the Hartlepool clash buoyed by the late, late point earned at Leyton Orient. Given that previous opponents Chesterfield and Orient are among the bookies’ tips to be in the mix at the end of the season, Fleet’s performances against both are encouraging for what lies in store.

Certainly there’s room for improvement, Daryl McMahon will have expected as much only two games into the campaign, but the fact that in neither game have Fleet been anything less than competitive means the “difficult start” to 2018/19 shouldn’t be viewed with any concern.

While much of the talk was Fleet getting off the mark in terms of goals and points, McMahon wasn’t labelling it as “a start”.

“You can’t really call it a start after two matches,” he said. “We’ll have played nine games by this time next month and then you get more of an idea. Some teams have six points, some two, some none – it means nothing, there’s 44 games to go.”

Fleet travel to the north-east today with Kenny Clark and Dean Rance nearing fitness and Dave Winfield set to serve the last match of his suspension and that will give the manager yet more selection headaches going into next week.

“There’s lots of games coming up and with that amount of games we have to freshen it up and keep players interested,” he said. “Those we brought in on Tuesday had a real impact on the game.

“We’re going up for the next one on Friday. All we can do is go and perform and the rest is in the hands of the football gods. We need to show that level of football again, there’s not a lot more I can ask from the players.”

Hartlepool manager Matthew Bates first took charge of his side in the previous meeting against the Fleet, when Rance’s goal was enough to claim a deserved 1-0 victory in a first-half performance that Fleet utterly dominated. Bates’ first task in the summer was to overhaul what was a surprisingly powder-puff Pools side last season and he’s certainly accepted that brief, signing nine players.

It’s a much meaner looking squad he can field now, with Niko Muir – Hendon’s 40-goal striker from last season – leading the line and Luke James in from Forest Green, who played against the Fleet for Barrow last season. Other recruits include experienced campaigner Liam Noble (Carlisle United, Forest Green, Notts County, ), impressive midfielder Paddy McLaughlin from Gateshead and new skipper Andrew Davies in from Ross County, who has also played for Middlesbrough, Derby County and Bradford City.

Pools have had to settle for two draws in their opening fixtures, with new boys Harrogate Town nicking a point almost as late as the Fleet did on Tuesday night, while Maidstone hosted a 1-1 draw at the Gallagher last Saturday.

The home side aren’t reporting any casualties, with former Plymouth midfielder Ryan Donaldson’s rib injury not expected to keep him out of contention.

There’s a renewed optimism amongst Pools fans who risked their club going to the wall last season and that’s been reflected in healthy season-ticket sales. Tuesday night’s crowd of 3,623 at the newly rebranded Super 6 Stadium was also their highest evening attendance for three years.

Away coaches depart the Kuflink Stadium at 7.30am on Saturday morning.


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