The regular National League season comes to an end for Salford City at Hartlepool United on Saturday (KO 12:30).
It is no surprise that after such an exciting season it has come down to the last day where the title could mathematically still go to one of three teams, including Salford. Needing just a point, Leyton Orient are the favourites ahead of their game against Braintree Town which is being shown live on BT Sport. Should Orient lose, Salford need to win with a five-goal swing in goal difference, and if both the top two lose then Solihull need to win with an eight-goal swing. They are away at Dagenham & Redbridge.
Stranger things have happened, but the most important thing for Salford is to focus on winning at The Super 6 Stadium by the greatest margin possible and see what happens – is it worth noting that Braintree have won four of their last five?
If not, then a good win would send us into the play-offs in a confident mood.
Following their relegation in 2016-17, Hartlepool fans were disappointed to finish 15th last season and had high hopes for this season but their wait for a return to the Football League will go on into a third season.
The most important thing for Hartlepool after last season was stability off the field, and Raj Singh provided that when he took the club over. Recruitment went well, and Matthew Bates was appointed manager permanently having guided the club to safety since February.
On the field the season started well too; by the end of September they had lost just twice and were a point and a place outside the play-offs – they were nine unbeaten ahead of their visit to The Peninsula Stadium in late September. However just four points from 24 in the next two months led to Bates being sacked on the back of a six-game losing run.
Richard Money then came in early December, but in January left the club following a re-shuffle, and Director of Football Craig Hignett took over for his second permanent spell as manager. Results stabilised with the help of a few additions, and Hartlepool are safe to compete for next season with a number of short-terms details being made ‘with next season in mind’.
Pools have won just one of their last five, coming from behind to beat FC Halifax Town 2-1 last time out at The Super 6 Stadium on Good Friday. They drew away at Aldershot, and have lost the other three although all have been by a one-goal margin. Of their 17 defeats this season, only five have been by a margin of two goals or more.
At home though Pools haven’t fared too badly. Prior to beating Halifax they narrowly lost out 1-0 to Solihull Moors but before that they beat Wrexham 1-0 and Dover 3-2. Throughout the season Orient, Harrogate and Eastleigh have all be held to a draw at The Super 6 Stadium, and out of the top seven Fylde are the only other team to leave with three points.
One to Watch – Josh Hawkes
The 20-year-old has come from the Hartlepool Academy, and first had a taste of first team action in League Two in February 2017 before going out on loan in the early part of last season. On his return he scored twice in 12 appearances.
This season it took Hawkes a while to gain regular football, but since doing so in November he has scored nine goals in 23 including six goals in his last 10. Albeit five of those have been from the penalty spot, but the attack-minded midfielder is a tricky player who is good from set-pieces.
When the sides first met in December 2015, not many would have thought that in three seasons these two clubs would be in the same league. Another magical FA Cup evening in the Second Round saw Stephen O’Halloran equalise against the then-League Two Pools to force a replay.
11 days later a valiant performance at Victoria Park saw the sides deadlocked at 0-0 after 90 minutes, with Richie Allen having hit the post. However in extra time Scott Fenwick and Mikael Mandron scored to end Salford’s best-ever FA Cup campaign and set a tie up with Derby County.
In the reverse fixture at The Peninsula Stadium in September, we levelled the overall record against Hartlepool with a 3-0 win thanks to goals from Danny Lloyd, Adam Rooney and Tom Walker in a devastating 10-minute spell.