The final instalment of our summer feature on the new clubs joining us in League Two for 2021/22 takes us to the North-East, and the National League Promotion Final winners.
How did they get here?
Hartlepool United ended their four-year exile from the EFL with a dramatic National League Play-Off Final win over Torquay United at Bristol City’s Ashton Gate a fortnight ago.
The North-East outfit plunged into non-league in 2017 and have been to the brink of extinction, had two different owners and four managers in their time outside the elite.
Luke Armstrong – on loan from Salford City – built a devastating attack partnership with Rhys Oates, while Gary Liddle has starred in defence and the long-serving Nicky Featherstone has been the pick in midfield.
Pools led through Armstrong’s first half goal in the Play-Off Final and looked set to win inside normal time until Torquay keeper Lucas Covolan nodded an astonishing 95th-minute equaliser for The Gulls.
The Brazilian stopper then saved two penalties in the shootout but it was his opposite number, Brad James, who had the last laugh as he decisively pawed Matt Buse’s spot-kick on to the bar to set off wild celebrations among the 3,000 travelling Pools fans.
Who’s in charge?
Dave Challinor arrived as the new Manager at Victoria Park in November 2019, succeeding Craig Hignett in the Hartlepool hotseat.
The former AFC Fylde boss had tasted multiple promotions and an FA Trophy success with The Coasters and quickly set about the task of building a Pools squad that could challenge at the top of the National League table.
A centre-back during his playing days, Challinor came through the ranks at Tranmere Rovers and went on to play regularly for the Birkenhead outfit before also representing Stockport County and Bury.
Once a world record holder for his 152-feet throw-in, he cut his teeth in management at Colywn Bay whilst still playing before moving on to Fylde where he led the club from the Northern Premier League to the National League.
Where do they play?
Victoria Park has been home to Hartlepool United since its inception in 1908 and has a current capacity of just under 8,000.
In 2018, Pools renamed their Mill House Stand in tribute to their former Manager, Neale Cooper following his tragic death.
When did we last meet?
Whilst younger Barrow fans may only remember a handful of games against Pools, this was a regular fixture back in The Bluebirds’ previous stint at Football League level.
The clubs have a rivalry which stretches back as far as the 1921/22 Division Three North campaign and has seen them meet on 91 occasions in all – Barrow have won 33, Pools 37.
Pools won 1-0 on their last trip to The Progression Solicitors Stadium, thanks to Ryan Donaldson’s second half goal, though the points were shared in Hartlepool when goals from Lewis Hardcastle and Dior Angus twice had The Bluebirds in front only for the game to end 2-2.
What do the locals think?
Dominic Scurr (Hartlepool Mail):
“What a season it has just been for Hartlepool United.
“After four years away, they have secured a welcome return to the Football League in the most dramatic of ways. A penalty shootout play-off victory against Torquay United at Ashton Gate completed a bizarre end to a bizarre season.
“Dave Challinor's first full season as manager saw him assemble a strong squad of young and hungry players, sprinkled with just the right amount of experienced professionals.
“It was a make-or-break season for Pools given most of their squad was out of contract and unlikely to return had the club failed to secure a place in the Football League. Who knows what would have happened had they lost to Torquay?
“With just five weeks before the start of the new season, it's going to be a hectic period at Victoria Park. Keeping Challinor as manager will be key to any success Pools have in League Two this coming season. As will tying down the majority of the players who played a key role in their promotion campaign.
“Do that, while also adding some proven Football League talent, and I'd fancy the side's chances of a respectable first season back in League Two. Ultimately, the next few weeks will be telling.”