Peter Hartley looks back on a hit and miss 2011/12 campaign for Hartlepool with Chris Burton.
Last Updated: 09/05/12 9:48pm
Hartlepool United could not have ended the 2011/12 season lodged any firmer in mid-table if they had tried.
After a gruelling 46-game campaign, Pools secured a 13th place finish in League One.
They collected the same amount of points as Tranmere Rovers - the side that finished directly above them - and also ended with the same number of wins, draws and losses as the Merseyside outfit.
Things could, and maybe should, have been better for Neale Cooper's side, but inconsistency cost them a shot at the play-offs.
Those inside the Victoria Park camp are prepared to admit as much, but Peter Hartley told Sky Sports' Chris Burton that Hartlepool can consider the season to have been a success.
He said: "To sum the season up - it's been the best start the club has ever made in this league, and then we had the worst home record as well. It's been a topsy-turvy season really. We have got a quite a young team, so they have lived and learned by it and hopefully we'll be a stronger team for it next season.
"We had a great start to the season, I think we went 10 or 11 games unbeaten at the beginning. But we weren't clinical enough at home, to be honest, and we got punished for that. The games we did lose, we weren't getting battered, it was little 0-0 draws and 1-0 defeats at home. If we can find that lethal touch next season, I think we will be right up there."
As mentioned by Hartley, Hartlepool burst out of the blocks - with a nine-match unbeaten run seeing them among the frontrunners - but a wobble over Christmas that brought one win in seven left the North East outfit with too much to do.
Hartley added: "We were there or thereabouts for most of the season and then we had a bit of an off patch around Christmas where we couldn't really pick up the points we needed to stay in contention. But we have learnt from it and hopefully we will be stronger for it."
Pools, who also ended with a run of two wins in 13, were never seriously looking over their shoulder at any stage of the season, though, and were good value for their middle of the road finish.
Hartley said: "That's a nice thing to be able to say. Before the season started, we were favourites to get relegated, so it's credit to the squad to have finished where we finished. Since I have been here, we have improved, in terms of the league position, every season and long may that continue."
While a home record which saw Pools pick up just six wins in 23 outings did little to help their cause, goals also proved to be something of a problem - with only five teams in the third tier finding the target on fewer occasions.
Hartley admitted: "That hits the nail on the head, to be fair. It's goals throughout the team. We have all got to take a bit of responsibility for that. I have scored four this season, but I could have maybe had eight or nine with the chances I've missed. I know I could have scored a few more goals and it's a collective thing as a team. We haven't really had the rub of the green in front of goal this season, but we just need to put that to one side, have a good break and look forward to a fresh start next season."
Summer additions would help to freshen things up and Hartley admits those already on the club's books would welcome new recruits with open arms.
He said: "Definitely, it's always nice to see new faces. I'm not sure what the gaffer is going to do yet in terms of bringing players in, but I imagine he will be looking at the attacking end of things. It's always nice to see fresh faces in the squad with new personalities that will obviously push the lads that are already here to do better. It's all positive.
"I think it has been our seventh straight season in this league now, so we are a League One team. If we can get a few new faces in, there is no reason why we can't be one of those teams that gets out of this league next season. We will just look forward to the new season."
Hartley, despite being on his summer holidays, is already back in the gym working on his fitness and is determined to keep his personal progress going in 2012/13.
He said: "I've improved a lot since I came to Hartlepool and have played a lot of games. Credit to the managers that have been here since I have been here, they have had faith in me and thrown me in there. I think I have made about 130/140 games now for the club and am getting better every game. I have doubled my goals tally this season from last season. I'm not the end product yet and I'm still working hard on my game, so hopefully I will improve again next season."
The 24-year-old Hartlepool native also believes that he is the ideal place at this stage of his career, adding: "I am playing week in, week out and that's what any footballer wants. There is no good being at a higher level and sitting in a reserve team, it's all about playing on a Saturday in front of the fans home and away. At this moment in time I am happy with the way things are going. I have still got a contract with the club and I just want to keep working hard and keep my place in the team."
Hartley is also looking to continue doing his bit for the fans - especially those who made the journey to Charlton Athletic on the final day dressed as a 171-strong army of travelling Smurfs.
He said: "It was funny. I was a bit disappointed that I didn't score at that end, I scored at the opposite end. The fans have been fantastic for us home and away. I think we have got another season ticket deal going, so I'm hoping there will be another 6-6,500 week in, week out at the Vic. The fans have been great and long may that continue."