"Things had been looking up " - Hartlepool United v FC Halifax Town: Opposition Focus

We spoke to Robbie Stelling, who covers Hartlepool United for the Hartlepool Mail, before their match at Gateshead last night, for the lowdown on FC Halifax Town’s opponents on Friday.
Hartlepool boss Kevin PhillipsHartlepool boss Kevin Phillips
Hartlepool boss Kevin Phillips

How has Hartlepool's form been of late?

Things had been looking up for Pools under Kevin Phillips, with the new boss winning four of his first five games in charge and drawing the other after conceding a last minute equaliser at Woking. Even after a run of four games without a win, there was a feeling that Pools remained much-improved since he took over. That is until everything changed during a 7-1 mauling at Gateshead in midweek. Pools shipped six second half goals as they slipped to one of the heaviest defeats in their history. The boss now faces the biggest challenge of his fledgling managerial career as he attempts to pick his side back up off the floor ahead of Friday's game, which seems to have taken on a new significance.

What kind of job has Kevin Phillips done since he arrived?

Up until Tuesday night's hammering at the hands of local rivals Gateshead, Phillips had made a really positive impression since his appointment in January. When he took over, Pools were really struggling and had only won two of their last 10, one of which was a not altogether convincing FA Cup win over Northern League outfit City of Liverpool. The new boss seemed to have breathed new life into the place but Pools had the wind knocked out of their sails and then some in midweek. This is just his second managerial role, and in his first he spent two seasons challenging for promotion with South Shields, and so this is the first time he's having to contend with such a humbling defeat as well as what is now turning into a relegation battle. More than 1,300 supporters made the trip to Gateshead and so fans, especially those that travelled, are understandably panicky and frustrated. This will certainly be the biggest test of his managerial mettle.

How is the mood at the moment?

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Even if a few discontented voices had reappeared on the terraces in recent weeks, the mood before Tuesday was probably more positive than it had been since the beginning of the season, when Pools went top in August after winning four of their first five games. Since then, it's been a long, hard slog and supporters that spent the first few months of the campaign moaning about their side's newfound National League status are now desperate to see that secured. The mood is never going to be good following a seven-goal defeat, and fans in the North East can be as passionate and emotive as they come. There won't have been many of them who managed to remain as level-headed as Phillips after the game, although even he admitted it was an embarrassing night for the club. Pools are not just playing for pride, however, they are in a battle to avoid successive relegations and their midweek mauling was a stark reminder of just how real that threat now is.

Are they still looking over their shoulder at the drop zone?

Pools have never played at a lower level than the National League but the prospect of sliding further down the pyramid has been coming into sharper and sharper focus in recent weeks. Kevin Phillips reckons his side need two more wins and so Pools will have to shrug off any psychological damage Tuesday night must have caused, and do so quickly.

Who will be your dangermen on Friday?

Halifax fans will know all about Pools' biggest threat Mani Dieseruvwe. Mani D has built on last season's 13 (correct me if I'm wrong!) goals with the Shaymen and has enjoyed the most prolific campaign of his career, scoring 21 goals, including 19 in the league. He hasn't scored in his last four and was kept quiet against both Southend and Eastleigh but remains full of confidence after being called up to the England C squad for last week's friendly against Wales, where he featured as a second half substitute. He scored a brace on his Pools debut, including an 89th minute winner as 10-men came from a goal down to beat Gateshead, and hasn't looked back since, netting six in his first six and impressing throughout the campaign. More than just his goals, he leads the line extremely well and has played every minute of every game for which he has been available, and was a huge miss when he had a spell on the sidelines after Christmas. Pools' other biggest threat comes from Joe Grey, who scored his ninth goal of the season on Saturday and is comfortable anywhere across the front line. Despite still only being 20, he played his 100th game for Pools earlier in the season but has not always been a regular. Since Phillips took over, however, he's produced some of the best football of his career and has become one of the first names on the team sheet.


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Like so many teams, Pools have had a lot of bad luck with injuries. Two of their star players, versatile defender Dan Dodds and talismanic midfielder Anthony Mancini, suffered serious injuries within two days of one another back in August. Pools have never really recovered from losing Dodds' pace and Mancini's flair, with Dodds ruled out for the season while Mancini, who had worked so hard to recover from his hamstring tear, returned in January only to break down again, this time with an injury to his groin, against York. He was back again for the draw with Southend, coming on just after the hour but managing less than 15 minutes before he was replaced after his groin flared up again and he's now back in his native France. It's difficult to describe just how much of an impression he has made in spite of only featuring 14 times in blue and white, and it was painful for all Poolies to see his comeback curtailed again two weeks ago. The equally luckless Alec Lacey, who although a natural centre-half had been deputising at right-back, pulled up with a potentially season-ending hamstring injury on just his second start since October at the weekend, while Brennan Dickenson became the umpteenth player to sustain a muscle strain last week. Lacey doesn't look like he'll be available for Friday, although Phillips hinted that Dickenson could. Midfielder Callum Cooke missed a couple of months after tripping over while collecting the balls after training - and I think that just about sums up Hartlepool's luck this season!

Likely line-up and formation?

Pools made an ill-fated experiment with 3-5-2 in midweek although it would be a big surprise to see them do the same again on Friday. The temptation after shipping seven goals would of course be to make wholesale changes, but Phillips doesn't really have the options to allow him to do so. I think we'll see him revert back to a back four and bring midfielder Callum Cooke into the side, while also answering increasing calls to show some faith in teenage full-back Louis Stephenson.

Jameson; Stephenson, Parkes, Waterfall, Ferguson; Featherstone (c), Crawford; Grey, Cooke, Dickenson; Dieseruvwe.