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Editor's column: Hartlepool United's EFL return could be great news for Middlesbrough
Monday, 21st Jun 2021 16:15 by Phil Spencer

Middlesbrough’s campaign may have ended on a flat note but thankfully for their closest allies, it was a season to remember.

Hartlepool United have spent the last three season competing in the National League after dropping out of the EFL in 2017-18.

Since then the club have had more than their fair share of off-field issues, but thankfully they’re now back where they belong.

A dramatic penalty shootout victory against Torquay United on Sunday afternoon was enough to secure promotion for Dave Challinor’s side, but while a place in League Two is clearly good news for Hartlepool themselves, Neil Warnock’s side could also reap some benefits.

Warnock spent time playing at Victoria Park during the 1970s and so will be hoping that a close relationship with their neighbours can prove beneficial for Middlesbrough.

The two clubs have enjoyed a fruitful affiliation over the years with numerous players heading to Hartlepool in search of regular first team football when trying to make the grade at the Riverside Stadium.

For an example you should look no further than Brad James.

The 21-year-old has previously spent time on loan with Gateshead and Aldershot, but the decision was made to allow him to head to Hartlepool in order to gain more big-game experience.

They don’t come much bigger than a play-off campaign to secure a place back in the EFL. Not only did James impress on loan; he even saved the decisive penalty to secure promotion for Challinor’s side.

Moving forward this deal could really set a precedent for their working relationship. Neil Warnock is intent on developing the club’s academy players but with opportunities in his side likely to be limited as the club push for the play-offs next term it means that securing first team football elsewhere has to be a priority.

Rather than playing meaningless football for the under-23s, loan moves to League One and League Two clubs are likely to be much more common from this summer. That’s where Hartlepool could be a real asset.

Pools can benefit by being sent promising young players from Middlesbrough next season as they look to retain their EFL status, while it gives the Teessiders a reliable hub to send their players in order to grow and develop in a trusted environment.

Some may think that these players should be thrown straight into life in the Championship, but in truth the vast majority of these players will need a platform in order to take their first steps into the professional game.

The cliched view of stepping up from boys football to ‘a man’s game with paying fans and players who are fighting to pay their mortgage’ might be a little bit dated, but there are certainly elements that still ring true.

Young players such as Brad James, Daniel Dodds, William Kokolo, Hayden Hackney, Connor Malley, Isiah Cornet and Josh Coburn could be contenders to move out on loan next term and so once the hangover from Hartlepool’s promotion celebration eases it’ll be interesting to see which, if any, of these players could be eyed for short-term moves.

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