Hi David! The last time I was at a Hartlepool v Sunderland game was a few years ago now, when you lads had just signed Steve Howard from Leicester (I think it was a testimonial game). There was a lot of positivity around the place that day but things seem to have gone south since. What has it been like following ‘Pools in the last couple of seasons?
Certainly a rollercoaster ride. We had a successful season ticket campaign in 2011/12 and sold over 5,000 season tickets and then went on to have the worst home form in the club’s history, which could only happen to us.
The next year we sank without a trace but did have one brief spell where it looked like the great escape could be achieved. And last season, we flirted with both the play-off spots and the relegation zone before securing survival in April.
I think it’s fair to say, there’s never a dull moment following Pools.
I’m aware this has nowt to do with the game, but I can’t help but notice that your twitter profile says that you are a data editor for EA Sports. That sounds interesting. What does your job entail?
It’s an online role that ensures that all data on players and teams are accurate to help make FIFA a more realistic game which I’ll have been apart of for two years this October.
This is everything from player attributes, team formations and player style, etc. I currently do the data editing for the Carlisle United side, and previously for the Hartlepool side.
The trailers for FIFA 15 look excellent (although I’m bound to say that, aren’t I?) so I’m looking forward to seeing things that I've contributed to in the game when it comes out.
Would Hartlepool fans class Sunderland as a ‘rival’ club or not? Historically I don’t think there has been much animosity between the fans of both clubs but in terms of proximity we are fairly close.
I wouldn’t say so, although I’m sure the Hartlepool Mags would say differently to that!
We don’t really have any rivals nowadays, since the demise of Darlington, and we can’t really count a team that we’re never likely to play in a competitive fixture as rivals. Also, while at university, I live in Sunderland and some of your fans have told me they have a soft spot for 'Pools - it’s difficult to hate any fans who would say that, even if they may just be saying it to be nice!
Relegation to the conference looked likely for Hartlepool at times towards the end of last season but safety was secured with just a few games left. What have the club done so far this pre-season to ensure that another term of struggle doesn't occur this time around?
We have a new assistant manager now, as from the end of last season we had no-one alongside Colin after Craig Hignett jumped ship and joined Boro to assist Aitor Karanka.
We went on a downward spiral after that and went from play-off contenders to relegation candidates within the space of a month. While I’m not suggesting Hignett was the brains behind the operation, it certainly highlights just how underrated a good assistant is – especially when the standard of coaching left a lot to be desired over previous seasons.
Stephen Pears, the new no. 2, is also the new goalkeeping coach as well. No disrespect to our previous keeper coach, Jim Provett, but Scott Flinders wasn’t the same keeper as he was under previous coaches, so fingers crossed that Pears will get the best out of him.
In addition to all that, we’ve added some experience to the side - with new signings Stuart Parnaby and Matthew Bates - which is much needed, as we had a very young side last year.
We were quite heavily linked with Jack Baldwin in the January transfer window of last season and there were rumours we had even tabled a bid for him but he ended up moving to Peterborough instead. Would you say that it’s an opportunity missed by SAFC?
I wouldn’t say he is ready for Premiership football just yet but I could definitely see him playing at a higher level within the next year or two.
I’ve been keeping a close eye on him at Posh and Jack appears to be doing very well there - Peterborough have turned down a few bids for him already. Baldwin seemed to enjoy life in the North-East and given his progress with Peterborough and that Poyet was keen on him at Brighton as well as with you lads, I wouldn’t be surprised if he were linked with Sunderland some time again in the future.
Your gaffer Colin Cooper spent a spell on loan at Sunderland towards the end of his career, so some Sunderland fans will be familiar with him. How do you rate him as a manager? Do you think he’s the man to take Hartlepool forward?
Cooper’s first season as a manager was by no means perfect but it was a learning curve, as you would probably expect. The side played good possession football under him last year and he’s got youngsters playing to their potential in the first team which is something fans always want to see.
Colin also seems to have a good eye for players, for example: Michael Duckworth who signed from non-league Bradford Park Avenue, and a good contacts book too which saw a few successful loanees from Boro last year. Whether or not he’ll get the budget to help build the squad he wants is another matter.
How do you see the game going? We’ll be bringing a side of first teamers along, so it should be a competitive tie.
It’ll be our first fixture against higher opposition so it will be interesting to see how we react to that. We have a few trialists looking to secure contracts (a certain Tommy Miller being one of them) and against a Premiership side it should be, as you say, a competitive game.
It’s also our first chance to show what we can do against a professional side because while a 9-0 win against Billingham Town is morale-boosting, it doesn’t give us an indication of how we’ll fair against a league side.
Which players in the Hartlepool side do you think are capable of causing Sunderland problems?
Definitely Luke James - he’s a nightmare for defenders to face with his pace and skill and he also has excellent aerial ability for a fairly small centre-forward.
He’s a big Sunderland fan too and has said that he models his style of play on Super Kev so he’s one for you lot to look out for. Also, with his constant running at players, any lazy centre-half will be run ragged by the end of the game.
Finally, give us a score prediction!
I can see it being a close game but you should have too much quality for us, so I’m going for 3-1 Sunderland.
Even if we get absolutely battered though, we can just throw out the old "pre-season is just for fitness" line before eventually going into the usual pre-season meltdown…