The Monday Profile: Mick Wadsworth
To date the Monday Profile has been a column devoted exclusively to pen portraits of individual players, but yesterday’s whiteout posed a bit of a dilemma. With just 9 games surviving the freeze, options were few and far between for this week’s Spotlight, particularly since seven of those contests were between Championship sides, none of which I’ve managed to see in the flesh this term.
My first thought was to cook something up on Burnley’s John Guidetti with a little help from Google, but then I saw Hartlepool’s result at Huddersfield and there was no going back. But who to focus on? Leon McSweeney, scorer of the goal that notched the three points? No, too similar to compatriot Roy O’Donovan, who we’ve already covered. On-loan ‘keeper Jake Kean, who put in a sterling performance at the Galpharm by all accounts? Perhaps, but how much is there to say at this stage?
Leaving me little alternative than to break the rules, this week’s Profile therefore zooms in on Pools manager Mick Wadsworth and the progress that he’s made at Victoria Park since taking over from former Director of Sport Chris Turner a few games into the current season.
And what progress. Down as relegation favourites at the start of term and controversially doubted by Turner himself, Hartlepool were a mess when Wadsworth stepped up from his position as Coach. As our Hartlepool correspondent put it in his season preview for the Monkey Hangers, the 100/1 on Pools to win the league offered by William Hill looked miserly given the noises being made by Turner.
Yet four months later and Pools are up to 10th position in League 1, just one point away from the play-off places. Brighton, Peterborough, Bournemouth and now Huddersfield have all been dispatched in the league, suggesting that this is a team that should be feared rather than written off, respected rather than patronised. Granted there’s been a few slip-ups along the way, but what’s been the secret of Wadsworth’s success?
Acknowledging that there was a dearth of striking talent available to him, Wadsworth didn’t take long to bed down a pragmatic 4-5-1 formation that played to his squad’s strengths. Where cynics might perceive a frustratingly negative side who defend as deep as their box and try only to grab a goal when their opposition run out of ideas, Hartlepool supporters will see a committed squad of triers who have managed to rid themselves of an aura of defeatism that not so long ago pervaded these parts.
So, unable to bring in big money names to plug the squad’s deficiencies, Wadsworth has gone back to basics and has focused instead on meticulously organising his side in order to counteract their opponents’ strengths. He’s been aided in his pursuit by a core of experienced players. Sam Collins and Neil Austin have demonstrated seasoned guile at the back, and defensive midfielder Paul Murray, released from Shrewsbury in the summer, has been a right bloody revelation. With Andy Monkhouse, who’s put many a lower league full-back to the sword over the years, and the aforementioned McSweeney ducking and diving out wide, it’s perhaps less of a surprise that Pools are advancing on the top six than one might think.
All that said, it’s not all fine and dandy up in the North East, and the club do have its detractors after the board took a little too much umbrage at Billingham Town’s failure to settle a paltry debt. Moreover, a significant question mark lingers over the long-term direction of the club under its owners, Increased Oil Recovery Ltd, particularly in regards to their attempt to buy Victoria Park on the cheap from Hartlepool Council.
But with wins being chalked up left, right, and centre in a league that appears a tad average this time around, there’s a definite feel good factor about the town and, should the pitch make it, the club will hope to pull in a healthy crowd for Oldham’s visit on New Year’s Day. There may be off-the-field issues that remain unresolved, but with Mick Wadsworth at the helm until the season’s end at least, Pools could well turn out to be this season’s Blackpool. Well worth keeping an eye on, Huddersfield supporters might say.