Hartlepool were relegated back to the National League last season after just two seasons - what do you think were the main factors behind that?
Joe Ramage: How long have you got? There were a multitude of reasons but, ultimately, it goes back to the beginning of pre-season and the length of time it took to appoint a new manager and the subsequent recruitment.
If you were to include Chris Maguire, who was unable to make a single appearance for the club due to contract issues, there were 17 new arrivals last summer - only a handful remain with the club.
The turnover of staff, playing and otherwise, has been unsustainable with three managers across the season. Beyond that there were big general fitness concerns at the start of the season which set them back and a new group of players who struggled to gel with one another.
They had the worst defensive record in the division with injuries also taking their toll. It was a season to forget to say the least.
Despite failing to keep the club up, John Askey remained in charge, who lost just three of his 13 games, were you happy to see this?
JR: Absolutely. If there were any positives to come out of the end of last season it is that Askey is remaining with the club.
Although he was unable to get them over the line and keep them up, there was a notable shift towards the end of the season in terms of performances. The players bought into what he was about and held their own and more against the majority of the teams in the top half of the division during what was a tough run-in.
The fact he committed early to staying with the club was important, too, meaning there has been no period of uncertainty in terms of the manager over what has, and is, a hugely important summer for the club to try and turn the tide.
Hartlepool are currently the joint-fourth favourites for the title, how confident are you feeling ahead of the season of a promotion push?
JR: I’m more confident than I was at the beginning of pre-season. Whether or not they can challenge for that single automatic promotion spot, I’m not sure. There are some decent teams in the division.
You look at the likes of Chesterfield and some of the signings they have made, with one Sunderland fans will know in Will Grigg - who you’d like to think will be able to find the back of the net more than he did on Wearside at this level.
Oldham look like they might have done some decent business. Gateshead and York could go well, among others. I do think, either way, it will be more competitive than last season where we saw two teams just do something unbelievable in terms of how much they ran away from the rest of the pack.
This year could be a lot closer between more teams. The goal for Hartlepool will be to compete though, it’s got to be. After the turmoil of the last 12 months, in particular, a play-off finish would be a decent return, and then who knows?
Moving onto the players, ex-Sunderland youth goalkeeper Joel Dixon was signed from Bolton, how did fans view this move?
JR: The Bolton reaction left a lot to be desired but from a Hartlepool perspective it seems good business.
Pools were left without a goalkeeper on their books at the end of May and now have two very solid ones for this level in Dixon and Pete Jameson, another North East native.
Dixon has been promoted out of this division before and has played in League One as recently as last season - losing his spot to James Trafford who has just been sold for around £20million. So I think there’s a little bit of context to be had.
For me, they have two good options and it will be interesting to see who gets the nod to start the season.
Another ex-Sunderland academy player on your ranks is left-back David Ferguson, how good of a signing has he been from York?
JR: With Nicky Featherstone leaving, he is now one of the longest serving players at the club having been there for three years. He was excellent in the promotion winning season in 2020-21, and continued in their first season back the following year.
Like most, however, he struggled last season, albeit he was pulled from pillar to post in terms of having to play across the entire back line throughout the season. He started showing signs he was finding his form again under Askey towards the end of the season and is set to take over the captaincy in Featherstone’s absence.
A good player on his day, especially at this level. Expecting a big season from him.
Aside from Dixon, who else have Hartlepool brought in that you are excited to see?
JR: Although he came in during the January transfer window I’m eager to see how Dan Dodds gets on this year. There was plenty of promise during the second half of last season and he was one of the few bright sparks. He held his own at league level and should go well in the National League.
As for signings this summer, Emmanuel Dieseruvwe will, naturally, be one of interest given he will be tasked with getting Hartlepool’s goals. Initially he looked as though he’d be Josh Umerah’s replacement but with Umerah now looking set to stay, a Dieseruvwe-Umerah partnership holds plenty of potential this season. He scored 13 for Halifax last year, with Umerah scoring 17 the last time he was in this division.
Beyond that, there’s been plenty of noise surrounding Anthony Mancini. The midfielder came in on trial and wowed supporters in the 2-1 win over Middlesbrough and has since been handed a permanent deal. Signed by Burnley a couple of years ago but has been unable to really get going in this country. Only 22-years-old so has plenty of potential and could prove to be a shrewd signing.
It will be both clubs’ last match before the start of the season, how have Hartlepool looked so far during pre-season?
JR: They’ve done okay. They look fitter and the new players seem to have bedded in quite well. The team spirit appears good and they’ve had some decent performances - particularly that Middlesbrough one.
Which eleven players do you think Askey will select and what style of play can Sunderland expect to encounter?
JR: It’s tough as, like Sunderland, they’ll be wanting to avoid any injuries at this stage. I suspect it will be about topping minutes up and maybe giving one or two a final opportunity to impress before changing things at the break.
Jameson, Seaman, Onariase, Dolan, Burton, Ferguson, Crawford, Cooke, Mancini, Wreh, Umerah.
The clubs drew 1-1 when they last met during pre-season in 2022 - what is your score prediction for this time around?
JR: Given that Sunderland are likely to mix things up as well, I’ll go for a repeat. 1-1.