A look back at Hartlepool United’s Great Escape five years later
Hartlepool United’s 2014/2015 season brought the club dangerously close to relegation from the Football League.
However, just like Cyril Knowles’ team of 1989/1990, the introduction of a new manager helped salvage the club’s status as one of England’s 92 best clubs.
As we have reached the five year anniversary of what was labelled ‘The Great Escape’ we take a closer look at how Ronnie Moore was able to galvanise a team that was dead and buried at Christmas, and save them from relegation with a game to spare.
At the season’s opening, former Middlesbrough defender Colin Cooper was hoping to build on the previous season’s 19th place finish, and push towards the upper-half of the table.
After yet another slow start though, with only two wins in 11 league games, Cooper resigned from his position.
Pools were looking for yet another manager.
The man they chose to hire though, wasn’t a specialist in survival. In fact, he wasn’t even a manager.
Following a brief spell under caretaker manager Sam Collins, Pools moved to secure the services of their former player Paul Murray. The ex-midfielder had retired just a year earlier, and had spent a short period as a coach at Oldham Athletic.
He had no managerial experience, yet he was taking over at a club who had 11 points from 14 games, and was in a fight to survive relegation.
Murray lasted just six weeks in charge of his former club.
In his seven games in charge, he won just one game – an FA Cup tie against non-league team East Thurrock United.
As a result of an embarrassing exit in front of the BBC cameras to Blyth Spartans in the second round of the FA Cup, Murray was relieved of his duties.
Perhaps as a realisation of that dire situation the club were in, Pools wasted no time in recruiting their next manager, Ronnie Moore.
While their previous two managers lacked experience – it was their first full-time management position, Moore was someone who had certainly been around the block a few times.
Moore was officially announced as Pools’ new manager on December 16 2014.
His new team were six points adrift at the bottom of League Two, with a minus 24 goal difference.
With the club seemingly in free-fall, it would take a miracle to turn their fortunes around. And Moore had a slow start.
It took Moore five games to pick up his first win as manager, a dominant 2-0 win at home to Cheltenham Town. One of the goalscorers that day, who became something of a cult hero in his spell at the club, was Scott Fenwick.
One of 25 acquisitions of the course of the 2014-2015, the relatively unknown Fenwick was playing non-league football at Dunston UTS before joining Pools midway through the season.
He wasn’t the only key addition though; Moore’s shrewd use of the loan market was ultimately what saved Pools.
Fans still possess fondness towards players such as David Mirfin, Aaron Tshibola and Jordan Hugill for their contributions over the course of the ‘Great Escape’, even though some of them only played a handful of games in the blue and white.
Even though there was a renewed sense of hope around the club due to more positive performances, it wasn’t until March where Pools won four consecutive games that survival became a real possibility.
The first win was a 1-0 victory against Morecambe via an own goal from Andy Parrish. Not necessarily convincing, but an away win especially was a rare, welcome occurrence.
This was followed by a 2-0 win away to Oxford United three days later. One of the goalscorers that day was Ryan Bird, another short-term loan signing by Moore, who was proving himself to be a much more accomplished recruiter compared to his predecessors.
Two successive away wins were huge, but Pools were still bottom.
After a 1-0 win at home to Mansfield Town, they were now just one point from safety. It was another scrappy game of few chances, but confidence was building.
The final win of this remarkable stretch came a week later, and the match winner was an unlikely goalscorer. After a goal from Matt Harrold cancelled out Brad Walker’s header, defender Scott Harrison volleyed in from a corner. It was his first goal for the club.
This was the first time the club had been out of the bottom two since October.
The unbeaten run continued with a 2-2 draw away at promotion-chasing Newport County. Although Pools were leading 2-0 at one point and had squandered away a lead, a point kept the momentum going.
Unfortunately, a four match winless ensued. This meant that the penultimate game of the season, a home game against Exeter City, could decide the club’s fate.
Almost 5,000 spectators piled into Victoria Park to witness what would become a rare positive memory for Hartlepool fans in recent years.
Scott Fenwick’s early goal was cancelled out almost immediately due to a header from Graham Cummins.
The lead was restored on the stroke of half time, when Hugill latched onto Tshibola’s pass and hit a left-footed shot into the net.
After a nervy second half, Pools managed to hold on, and condemned both Tranmere and Cheltenham to relegation.
Ronnie Moore had completed his finest achievement as a manager.
After being considered relegated for so long, a miraculous run of form combined with excellent business in the transfer market had saved Pools for another year.