Ronnie Moore's Hartlepool United survival 'miracle'
|By Matt Newsum, BBC Sport|
Ronnie Moore's feats at Hartlepool United this season would put even the saccharine-tinged plots of Hollywood to shame.
The former Rotherham and Tranmere boss, out of work for eight months after breaking Football Association betting rules, took on a seemingly impossible challenge when appointed Pools boss in mid-December.
Six points adrift with just three wins in 20 games, Pools looked doomed but five months later the club are safe, preparing for a new, brighter era under Moore's management.
BBC Sport looks at the journey Pools and Moore have enjoyed together since his arrival at Victoria Park.
"When you've been out of work, you take what you get..."
Pools arguably would not have recruited a manager of Moore's pedigree had it not been for the circumstances. Both manager and club were suited perfectly. Moore, who had kept Rotherham in the Championship during the early part of the new millennium, was out of work after his FA ban and subsequent sacking by Tranmere, while Pools were desperate for a saviour after an FA Cup exit by non-league Blyth and a seemingly inevitable relegation from the Football League. Fate ensured the two paths would cross and Moore began with a 1-1 draw against Oxford United on 20 December.
"When you're out of work for eight months, you take the job. I thought it would be a hell of a challenge, I never really realised until we got in," Moore said.
"You get an opportunity, Russ [Green] and the chairman [Ken Hodcroft] have given me a great opportunity to come to a family club that was brilliantly supported.
"Then you go up to the training ground on the your first day and you think 'I knew it would be hard but I didn't know how hard it was going to be'.
"Things needed to be changed. We did that, got rid of the lack of confidence, tried to bring one or two smiles to the players' faces and try to get them enjoying being a footballer. That's what has happened."
Turning around form
Even with Moore at the helm, it took time for Hartlepool to find form. He arrived with the club amid a run of eight games without a win and that record continued for a further four games before victory was achieved at home to Cheltenham. Moore used his contacts to make loan signings, with Rakish Bingham, Aaron Tshibola and later David Mirfin and Jordan Hugill playing key roles. Players such as Scott Fenwick and Scott Harrison also thrived as confidence spread.
"The morale of the players was really low, confidence was shot, but myself and Sam Collins, all the backroom staff have done absolutely brilliant to lift them off the floor, get the playing and believing this was possible," continued Moore.
"We were saying 'don't be losers, don't go in the Conference' day in day out. Eventually we went on a nice little run with four wins on the trot in March and then the players started to believe anything possible.
"Probably when we got out of the bottom two in April, the nerves got to the players and we had three losses. I thought 'let us not go back to the old Hartlepool'."
Pools' League Two status looked in a mild peril when they went five games without a win in April but other results, notably Cheltenham's own run of one win in 11 games and Tranmere's one win in 13, meant their position was in their own hands going into the penultimate game against Exeter. Hartlepool held their nerve to win 2-1 and further defeats for Cheltenham and Tranmere secured their place in the Football League.
"It's fantastic, you can't believe it, you can't write stories like this. This is the best moment in my career," added Moore.
"I've had back-to-back promotion to the Championship with Rotherham and kept them in there, but when you look at the position we were in, 10 points adrift at one stage, to do it with a game to go, if someone had said that at the time they'd have taken me away in white coats.
"It's been great, we had a couple of beers on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, but I've stopped now.
"It's been brilliant, the response of the fans, the feeling was exactly the same between everybody.
"If you could bottle it, it would be worth a fortune."
"I wasn't happy to see them go."
There is a touch of irony about the fact Hartlepool's survival came at the expense of Tranmere Rovers - a club close to Moore's heart. The 62-year-old, born in Liverpool, played 324 league games for Rovers, worked as assistant and then had two spells as manager. Not even the terms of his exit from Prenton Park in April 2014 could alter the feeling Moore has for the club.
"I had a fall out with one person at the club, otherwise it's been a fantastic club for me," he said.
"I was a player, a manager, I had some great years there and the supporters have been loyal to me.
"It's a sad day when a big club, who have been a Championship club and when I was assistant manager they were very near to getting into the Premier.
"Now to go out of this league it's very difficult, when you get there it's tough. I wasn't happy to see them go."
Pools closed out their league season with a 3-3 draw against Carlisle, avoiding a hangover after the jubilation of the scenes after the Exeter game. Moore, who enjoyed promotion success with Rotherham, wants his players to use the motivation of the euphoria around Victoria Park to move forward and avoid a similar fate.
He said: "It did, I said that to the players, 'if you win promotion in our careers, you'll get that same buzz and feeling'.
"We're celebrating just staying in the league, if players can just learn from it to not be in that same position again.
"The players who got us in that position got us out, the players responded so well - the backroom staff were excellent too."