You know the pre-season optimism drill by now: confidence, hope and a fair few mutterings of the P-word.

Whether your team has spent heavily or has been more approached and restricted in its spending, everyone loves the start of the season and dons their rose-tinted glasses. For Hartlepool United fans, it’s no different.

Adam Boyd, James Brown, Nobby Solano, Gary Liddle and Steve Haslam have all left the club following their expiration of their contract. Big, powerful Steve Howard has came in with a definite instruction to curb Pools’ worrying barren of goals in front of goal. Howard will do what no Pools striker has done for many a year: put fear into the opposition defence.

Having the former Luton man up front is like going into war with more weaponry that you enemy, despite both having the same number of troops. He is, sorry Colin, but two times that of current striker and target-man Colin Nish.

Yet he will need service if Pools are to seriously mount a challenge up the league this season. Forays going forward last season were few and far between. Fist-punching ensuing a goal was replaced by frequent gasps of yawns. Crosses into the box were far outnumbered by hopeless, mis-guided shots.

Step forward Jonathan Franks to turn those bed-calling yawns into euphoric wails. The wide man, 22, has joined from Middlesbrough with a respectable appearance record to his name. He will be charged with delivering balls onto the head of Howard. The Vic crowd demand better performances this year. Fluent, attacking, tika-taka football is not what is in requisition; just some fun and goals.

Simon Walton’s arrival in the middle of the park is a much-needed boost following now Notts County man Liddle’s below-par season last year. By all accounts the 24-year-old former Charlton and Plymouth midfield will provide a creative spark and not allow his friendship with his comrades get in the way of essential criticism when things go wrong.

The tag of the league’s soft and nice boys is not what a side wants to be labelled. Yet Pools, for years now, have always been contenders. With Walton’s intervention we might, finally, see a tougher Pools side step out onto the pitch.

The squad’s got a younger feel to it, too, paving way for an extra dose of optimism. Jack Baldwin should eventually take Sam Collins’s central defensive position; Darren Holden has been earmarked for a spot at left back, meaning Evan Horwood will push further forward to left-midfielder, and who can forget Luke James.

By no means are Pools fans rushing to the bookmakers, but there is a quiet, patient optimism engulfing Neale Cooper’s side. It should be a season of interest, whether for disappointment or joy, that’s for sure.

By Hartlepool United blogger Chrissy Marshall-Bell. Tweet him @cmbell310 for even more Pools discussion.

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