• Sam Byrne

Challinor poised for County hotseat - a look at the man to replace Simon Rusk

Image credits to Mike Petch

Former Hatters captain Dave Challinor looks set to be at the County helm in time for Sunday’s trip to Bolton Wanderers in FA Cup action, after an acrimonious week in which the former Hartlepool Utd boss chose to depart the North East club in favour of Edgeley Park.

Whilst the finer details are still being ironed out, the club aim to have an announcement ready on their new manager’s arrival within the next 24 hours after Hartlepool confirmed Challinor’s “desire to leave the club” on Monday evening.

It’s been a fairly chaotic week since Simon Rusk’s departure from Edgeley Park – one which had felt inevitable for a number of weeks prior, and one which prompted County to move away from a similar appointment next time around.

With Rusk clearly earmarked for the role following the contentious departure of legendary figure Jim Gannon at Edgeley Park, there is a sense that County’s approach to the recruitment process this time around almost, indirectly, acknowledges the error of the club’s ways in appointing the former Brighton Under 23s boss.

It achieves little from here to dissect Rusk’s reign and the failures which led to his exit, but the style of play throughout the former Boston Utd midfielder’s tenure is believed to have caused increasing concern around the club dating back even before a ball had been kicked in the current National League campaign.

With Rusk’s dismissal, it seems, comes an acceptance that the more single-minded approach used to secure him in the first place was a mistake.

Following Rusk’s exit, the club began to formulate a list of potential targets, with a common theme coming in the increased levels of experience and success of those listed as opposed to the experimental nature of Rusk.

This process was reportedly also undertaken by a number of senior club officials, as opposed to being driven largely by Director of Football Simon Wilson, as had appeared to be the case in the appointment of Rusk.

As outlined last week, there was reportedly a feeling of genuine confidence that the likes of Michael Appleton, Derek McInnes and Michael Flynn were either attainable, may be interested in the role, or both.

Further names came and went as they so often do when a big vacancy crops up, with the likes of Altrincham boss Phil Parkinson, Boreham Wood boss Luke Garrard and Grimsby Town chief Paul Hurst all ruled out as quickly as they were linked.

But one name which refused to go away, and which the club had soon internally identified as the number one choice, was that of the then-Hartlepool boss Dave Challinor.

The Pools say that they were first made aware of County’s interest on Friday, prior to Challinor taking his place in the dugout for their 5-0 defeat at Leyton Orient, before turning down an approach by The Hatters on Sunday morning – ultimately leading to Challinor’s resignation on Monday evening.

Talk of legal action has surfaced, and has not gone away, but seems unlikely to bear any fruit for Hartlepool. What is for sure is that Challinor has managed his last game for the League Two side, with The Hatters poised to unveil the club’s former centre-back as the man entrusted to guide County back into the Football League.

With regards to what Challinor brings, it’s very much a case of the statistics speaking for themselves.

Starting out at Colwyn Bay back in 2010, Challinor – with fellow former Hatter Colin Woodthorpe as his assistant – immediately guided the club to promotion to the National League North, after finishing second in the Northern Premier League and securing promotion via the play-offs.

A move to AFC Fylde soon came in 2011, with Challinor again instantly taking his new side to promotion via the Northern Premier First Division North title.

After play-off final defeat the following season, promotion was secured yet again in 2014, coming this time as the former Bury defender took The Coasters to the National League North via the Northern Premier League play-offs, just as he had done at Colwyn Bay.

After consolidation in the next campaign, then came Fylde’s National League North title win in 2016/17, which included a memorable late 1-2 win at Edgeley Park with a last-gasp Danny Rowe free-kick.

It’s accurate to say that Challinor had somewhat of a hoodoo over The Hatters during his time with Fylde, something which fed into a number of edgy ties between the two clubs.

Back in 2019, whilst County were securing the National League North title under Gannon, Challinor again had a play-off final appearance to his name as a manager, with Fylde losing 3-0 to Salford City at Wembley.

He did, however, return to Wembley a week later to secure the FA Trophy for his side with a 1-0 win over Leyton Orient, after overcoming County in a feisty semi-final.

The curtailed Covid-19 campaign back in 2019/20 saw Fylde relegated back to the National League North after a disappointing campaign, one in which Challinor had left the club back in the October after eight years at the club and following a poor start to the campaign.

Whilst some supporters have raised concerns over that spell at Fylde, it’s fair to say that this is – to date – the anomaly in an otherwise impressive CV for the Chester-born chief, and came hot on the heels of a play-off final defeat which those around The Coasters felt it took ‘a while to recover from’ for all concerned.

Given the fact that Challinor has past experience of successfully overcoming play-off final defeats, it’s safe to surmise that that season of struggle doesn’t sit solely at the door of County’s new boss.

Just one month later, Challinor was back as struggling National League side Hartlepool – fresh from a 2-1 defeat at Edgeley Park – quickly snapped up the free agent. After stabilising the club that season, Challinor then took the Pools to National League play-off success a year later, which again included a semi-final win at Edgeley Park.

Hartlepool’s upward momentum continued under Challinor after promotion back into the EFL, with the Victoria Park side adapting superbly to life in League Two and sitting just outside the play-off positions prior to his departure this week.

So, that’s that then.

To sum up, Challinor has guided his sides to either promotion as champions, promotion as play-off winners, or a play-off place at the minimum, on a staggering ten occasions out of eleven seasons of management.

Five promotions across three clubs in eleven years of management, with a further two play-off final appearances in that time, as well as FA Trophy success with Fylde in the same season as one of those play-off defeats. A CV not to be sniffed at, by any stretch.

Somewhat reassuringly, Challinor has also won several Fair Play accolades during his managerial career to date at both Colwyn Bay and Fylde, an award which was famously held in such high regard by former boss Gannon throughout his three spells at Edgeley Park.

Along with the above comes tales of Challinor’s character, which you feel will be just as important as his managerial record so far. It’s undoubtedly a big challenge at Edgeley Park, and The Hatters look set to unveil a manager described as firm but fair, who has experience handling all from big characters and experienced older heads to up-and-coming youngsters.

Success with big and small budgets alike, and success through having a number of styles and approaches to turn to when the going gets tough.

There are no guarantees of success – as County fans will know more than most – and Bolton will be merely the start of Challinor’s journey back at Edgeley Park, but in will come a manager undoubtedly fully prepared for the long slog ahead.