CHRISTMAS is a time for traditions, and right now Jeff Stelling is going through one of his - he is worrying about Hartlepool United.
The 2011-12 season started with high hopes after the League One club built on a strong finish to the previous campaign with the signings of veteran Nolberto Solano, exciting youngster James Poole and a cut-price season-ticket initiative which saw more than 5,000 buy seats for the campaign.
A nine-match unbeaten league run to kick it off suggested the optimism was well placed, but as the weather has turned cold and the nights have drawn in, reality has dawned.
After seven straight defeats at Victoria Park cost manager Mick Wadsworth his job, Stelling hopes his fellow fans are more realistic in what they expect of the team in 2012.
“I think survival, generally speaking, is the name of the game for us,” says the Hartlepool-born broadcaster. “We’ve been involved in so many relegation battles in the last few years and if in the last couple of games of the season we’re not sweating over the points, that will be a success. We’ve generally gone right to the wire.”
Last year was a glorious exception, Hartlepool finishing comfortably in mid-table, and in hindsight Stelling sees it as a mixed blessing.
“Mick Wadsworth was brought in as a coach under Chris Turner and did a great job,” he explains. “I think he was almost pushed a little unwillingly into the job when Chris left.
“My understanding was always that he didn’t want the job on a permanent basis but we had such a good season he almost had to get it.
“We’ve almost started the season too well, going nine games unbeaten, and people’s expectations changed.
“Having sold so many season tickets it’s important your home form’s good. Last season when things were going badly you had 2,000 people on your backs, this time it’s five or six thousand.
“My concern is that the lack of goals in particular at home will eventually transfer itself to the away games.
“We’ve got players like James Poole who’ve scored some magnificent goals away from home but you worry that might stop. It’s a really worrying time for Hartlepool fans.”
Now the club are looking for a new manager and, while Stelling knows who he would love to be given the chance, he fears they will not after consecutive defeats in the first two games.
“I would be keen on Mickey Barron and Ritchie Humphreys (below) staying in charge, but I think a change is inevitable after Saturday’s defeat to Colchester,” he says.
“They’re both Hartlepool legends, but it hasn’t started well for them.
“I would love to see them get the job and they’ll be given more time by the fans because you will be hard-pushed to go into the crowd at Victoria Park anything bad to say about either of them.”
:: Jeff Stelling was speaking on behalf of Soccer Saturday Super 6, the free-to-enter online predictor game with a weekly jackpot of £100,000. Go to www.skysports.com/super6 for more details.