Had things gone differently City could have been preparing for a blockbuster home tie with West Ham this weekend. Instead it’s a trip to the back of beyond as City look to continue their recent upturn in league form with a win over a club that is looking over its shoulder currently. Paul Tisdale has spoken of his treatment room finally beginning to look less chaotic and, aside from a couple of long-term injuries and a couple of players rated “doubtful”, Tisdale has a fairly large squad to choose from. Augmenting this is the signing of former loanee Jake Taylor, who since his spell with the club in the 11/12 relegation season has gone on to feature a number of times for Reading in the Championship and earned a couple of Welsh caps to boot. Taylor will hope to go straight into the side although this may depend on whether David Noble, who sat out the Liverpool and Accrington games, has recovered in time from his niggle. Tom Nichols is expected to start alongside Jayden Stockley up front, although with the vultures continuing to circle City supporters are resigned to thinking it could be Nichols’ last game in City colours.
This time last season you’d have got decent odds on City playing Hartlepool this season as Pools looked utterly doomed. However, Ronnie Moore came in and worked miracles and relegation was avoided with a game to spare after a 2-1 win over City. The momentum continued into this season as Moore’s side won their first three league games (and won at Fleetwood in the Capital One Cup) and suddenly Pools were being talked of as promotion contenders. Sadly for the side which gains maximum exposure on TV on Saturday afternoons due to the support of the doyen of live results shows, Jeff Stelling, this was a false dawn and Hartlepool go into Saturday’s fixture just two places and four points above the drop zone. The chief problem seems to be in front of goal – big things were expected of Rakish Bingham after his decent form with Mansfield, but he has only found the net three times this season while the club’s top scorer is veteran Billy Paynter with seven even though he hasn’t featured since early November. Ellis Harrison has been brought in on loan from Bristol Rovers to try to add some firepower.
When the sides met in September the game looked to be heading for a 0-0 draw before Christian Ribeiro popped up with a 90th minute winner. Last season’s visit to the Victoria Ground, coincidentally the second consecutive season that City’s final away trip of the season was to Hartlepool, ended in the aforementioned 2-1 win to the hosts – Scott Fenwick’s early goal was immediately cancelled out by Graham Cummins before Jordan Hugill scored what proved to be the winner just before half time to send the home support delirious at their great escape. City enjoy a healthy Football League head to head lead with 33 wins to Pools’ 24 (22 draws).