Humphreys eyes place in play-offs under new boss

Dual role: Ritchie Humphreys is Hartlepool player-coach
Dual role: Ritchie Humphreys is Hartlepool player-coach
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NO game between Hartlepool and Wednesday goes by without the spotlight falling on the 2005 play-off final.

But Ritchie Humphreys - Sheffield lad, ex-Owls player and a Pools stalwart who suffered in the Millennium Stadium defeat against his old club - is part of a backroom team who are now under new leadership and bidding to help bring the good times back to their club.

Hartlepool are 13th in the table and refusing to give up hope of the play-offs after recent managerial appointment Neale Cooper arrested a slide in results.

Long-serving Humphreys and Micky Barron are doing their bit as well. Humphreys remains a player with some coaching duties and Barron is coach after being caretaker boss before Cooper’s arrival.

Cooper remarkably quit as manager when Pools were one game away from sealing their place in the 2005 play-offs.

Defeat by Wednesday last October was another blow for Pools after they had been unbeaten in the League.

“Reda Johnson scored from a long throw, and that was the difference between the teams,” says Humphreys.

“After that we went on a really bad run at home. But our away form has been pretty good, which has kept us in a reasonable posotion, and we won our last home game.

“We have a new manager, somebody I played a lot of games under, and to work with him again is fantastic. Predominantly I’m here as a player but I’ve had coaching responsibilities as well.

“Micky Barron and I have been at the club for a long time; we both played under Neale Cooper as captains. We all know each other, which is really good.

“It’s a great learning situation for me, while I’m still playng as well.”

Humphreys, a sub for last week’s 0-0 draw at Exeter, helped Pools reach the 2004 play-off semi-finals - they lost to Bristol City - as well as the 2005 final. “Those were good seasons - Neale wants to replicate that,” he says.

“The current top four or five are really strong contenders. There are two automatic promotion spots, and plenty of other teams chasing the play-off positions.

“The strongest clubs, the big clubs with big crowds, will be really wanting to go up.

“Although we have had a terrible run at home, we’re still not a million miles off.

“It’s a case of putting a run together; there will be a lot teams like us, chasing play-off spots.”

One to watch

Luke James, aged 17, became Pools’ youngest-ever scorer when he netted in the recent 2-0 win against Rochdale, and has looked good since breaking into the side, playing as a central-forward or on the right side of a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1. He was given a pro contract in November, a year early.

History lesson

Wednesday and Hartlepool have met only 13 times. It’s nine wins to the Owls, three draws, and only one win to Pools - 3-0 at Victoria Park six weeks before the 2005 play-off final.