Preseason Previews: Hartlepool United Vs Sunderland

Ryan Noble will be hoping and praying he has earned himself another chance to show his worth following his stunning goal in Korea last time out (Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images)

Later on this evening Martin O'Neill's side will make the short trip south to face Hartlepool for their first domestic friendly of the summer at Victoria Park. The lad's will no doubt be looking forward to a run out in more agreeable temperatures following the testing humidity of Korea. The squad can also expect good backing from the travelling fans with this fixture looking to be one of the more popular among the Sunderland faithful.

So without further ado we will have a closer look at tonight's opposition.

Overview

Hartlepool were formed in 1908, originally christened Hartlepools United Football Athletic Company and would not drop the "S" until 1968 and restored "United" in 1977. The club would become founding members of the Third Division North upon its conception in 1920.

Most interestingly Hartlepool was the club with which the late, great Brian Clough began his managerial career following a brief stint managing Sunderland's youth team. At the time Hartlepool were a struggling side, constantly forced to apply for re-election to the Football League having consistently finished bottom of the Fourth Division in the early 60's. Finances were so tight at the time that Clough even applied for a coach driver's licence to drive his side to their away fixtures.

Clough is not the only link between the two clubs as a number of former Sunderland players, some fantastic ones to boot, have gone on to manage Hartlepool including; Len Ashurst, Mick Docherty, Bobby Gurney, John MacPhail, Bobby Moncur, Bill Robinson, Martin Scott and Chris Turner.

Recent History & Success

In recent years Hartlepool United have secured long-term financial stability following the takeover of the club by Aberdeen based Oil Recovery Limited in 1997 and immediately made a statement of intent with the transfer of Jan Ove Pederson on loan who is widely regarded among 'Pool fans as their most talented player of the modern era. Another important step was made in 1998 when the club opened its own Centre of Excellence.

Chris Turner guided Hartlepool to the play-offs in 1999/00, where they were eventually undone by rivals Darlington, before embarking on a twenty-one game unbeaten run the following season which helped them to back-to-back play-offs, however it was to be heartbreak again for the club as they lost out to Blackpool. Hartlepool would remarkably make the play-offs for the third consecutive season in 2001/02 but would suffer a cruel exit on penalties in the Final, a fate Sunderland fans can empathise with.

In 2003/04 Hartlepool had a chance to make it to the First Division via the play-offs, the fourth year out of five if you're keeping count, however they would incredibly yet again taste defeat and they would suffer the same fate the following year, losing out to Sheffield Wednesday.

Over the years a succession of managers have come and gone hoping to push Hartlepool on from the First Division with Neale Cooper the latest man to try and mastermind promotion to the Championship.

Fun Fact

Hartlepool are one of two sides, Rochdale the other, who have played the most seasons in the Football League without ever reaching the top two tiers.

The Hartlepool United fans grabbed headlines earlier this year as over 150 of their travelling fans descended upon London dressed as smurfs for the final league game of the season with Charlton Athletic. Twitter was flooded with pictures of the blue hoarde as they made their way from the North East to the game - great effort lads!

The Gaffer

Neale Cooper is currently serving his second spell as manager at Hartlepool following his appointment in December of last year. First time around Neale enjoyed a successful period with the side between 2003 and 2005, guiding Hartlepool to the League One play-offs in his first season.

Cooper previously made his name in management guiding Ross County from the Scottish Third Division to the First and narrowly missed out on completing the incredible turnaround. The Hartlepool fans will no doubt be hoping for a similar feat.

The Team

Hartlepool would appear to be a side in transition currently as Cooper has openly challenged a number of his squad to prove their worth or face being axed. Whilst the gaffer is keen to bring in at least two new faces before the end of August he will first be required to free up some funds to bolster his budget, a scenario his opposite number tonight is all to aware of, given the turnaround in personnel at the Stadium of Light this summer.

It is no secret how Hartlepool will lineup as Cooper has opted for a 4-4-2 in each of his side's pre-season games so far this summer, with a focus on getting the ball into the wide areas. Cooper is also keen on developing a strike partnership between Steve Howard and Andy Monkhouse, who is traditionally more comfortable on the left-side of midfield.

One To Watch

Young wingers James Poole and Jonathan Franks could prove a good test for the Sunderland fullback's this evening. Neale Cooper has placed a lot of faith going into the new season on his pacey, attacking youngsters, both former Premier League Academy graduates, whom he hopes can create havoc on the wings for his side.

A Tough Test For Sunderland?

Hartlepool are currently without a win during their pre-season preparation, with their latest game resulting in a 1-1 away to Darren Williams' Whitby. Cooper selected a strong side for the midweek fixture as goalkeeper Scott Flinders returned to the starting eleven along with Jack Baldwin, Sam Collins, Luke James, Paul Murray, Steve Howard and Colin Nish.

Hartlepool did however look like winning the game as former Sunderland man Nathan Luscombe made an immediate impact as a second half substitute, providing the cross for midfielder Murray to fire home. Whitby would however go on to grab a draw late on, capitalising on a scramble in the Hartlepool box.

Non-league Whitby can serve as an interesting measuring stick for tonght's game as Sunderland's reserves squad took part in an entertaining friendly last Thursday. Kevin Ball's youthful side, with the majority of his regular players on duty in Korea, went down 4-3.

With Sebastian Larsson, James McClean, John O'Shea, Stephane Sessegnon and Keiren Westwood all not expected to report back for pre-season training until Monday it would seem that tonight's game would give O'Neill further opportunity to test his fringe players. Add into the mix Wes Brown's frustrating injury, Michael Turner's departure and the likes of Blair Adams, Phil Bardsley, Carlos Cuellar, Matt Kilgallon, Simon Mignolet and David Vaughan all carrying knocks and niggles of varying descriptions and severity and it seems certain another youthful starting eleven will be on the cards.

We at Roker Report were disappointed not to see Billy Knott given a chance in Korea and hopefully he will be granted an appearance tonight or over the coming few weeks.

Attention will also be on the two standout players from the Peace Cup, Ryan Noble and Connor Wickham, who will be looking to carry on from where they left off following some flashes of real potential shown last week.

The game should prove to be a good, competitive run-out for O'Neill's side.

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