By Nick Loughlin
BACK in August the National League was a new experience for both Craig Harrison and Hartlepool United.
Pools struggled desperately in the opening weeks of the campaign, winless in six. The hangover of relegation from the Football League was lingering.
Since then, however, Harrison’s Hartlepool have never looked back and the former Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace defender turned 40 this week with the Manager of the Month award safely tucked away for a successful October.
Pools were unbeaten last month, collecting four wins and two draws. And, as all managers do on being crowned, Harrison was quick to praise the efforts his backroom team.
Harrison appointed Paul Jenkins as his right-hand man in the summer – the former Boro U23 coach joining Matthew Bates in Harrison’s trusted coaching circle. With a new goalkeeping coach and new fitness and physiotherapy staff forming his off-field squad, a United front has swiftly formed at the club.
“It is nice for the club, but it is a team effort, not just myself,’’ reflected Harrison.
“It is the coaches, the staff, the players, people off the pitch, behind the scenes – every individual
“A lot goes into football matches, more than the average spectator will see.
“Every little one per cent counts. Put it all together, with every person at the club pulling in the right direction and it’s a big deal. It should not be called Manager of the Month, it should be Team of the Month.’’
Harrison was used to success in his previous post, leading TNS in the Welsh Premier League to honours year after year. The same principles and ideals he adopted at TNS are being applied at Victoria Park to good use.
There’s no room for moaners, or long faces around the club’s training ground in the heart of Durham City.
Pools had enough of feeling down and morose last season. This is a new outlook, driven by the bubbly and positive Harrison.
“The squad is tight-knit, and driven – we have no sulkers here,’’ he insisted. “I like to deal with things like men should. If you have a problem come and talk about it.
“You know, honesty is the way forward – we put everything out on the table.’’
Harrison, during his time in Wales, was used to looking down on the division as TNS conquered all.
At Pools they are still looking up, with the division tight and little in it as a stack of clubs chase the coveted promotion and play-off spots.
The division might be new to Harrison, but he admitted: “Individual clubs have surprised me this season, but the league has not. Some teams have done better than I’d imagined, some worse.
“I thought you’d need two points a game to get promoted. As things stand it looks like it is going to take around 1.7 or 1.8. We are we are not a million miles away from that.”
*This article was originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper, which is available every Sunday.