Hart to Hart
BEFORE Argyle contend with a play-off semi-final with Portsmouth, they must conclude the regular season with a home match against a side Peter Hartley knows every well.
Saturday’s fixture at home to Hartlepool gives the Greens a chance to enter the playoffs with some momentum and to finish an excellent season on the right note, and gives Pete a chance to chance up with his hometown club.
Centre back Hartley is very familiar with this weekend’s opponents, having made over 150 appearances over five years at Victoria Park, as well as being born in the town.
“I know the majority of the players inside out,” said Pete. “They’ve got a very good team. Craig Hignett has changed the philosophy of the club now. He’s given Nathan Thomas a free role and he’s scoring goals. Centre back Matthew Bates is fantastic player and would have been player of the season was it not for goalkeeper Trevor Carson, who I played with for 10 years at Sunderland.”
There is little to play for on Saturday but pride, with Hartlepool in 16th place and Argyle’s play-off matchup with Pompey already set. However, Pete’s links to the club and region means he has a lot of personal ties to Saturday’s game.
“I want to be on the pitch because I’m playing against Hartlepool,” he said. “I know the staff, the kit man and a lot of players there and I’ve got a lot of friends and family coming to the game. It’s a fantastic little club and I want nothing but the best for them - just not when I’m playing against them.
“It’ll be nice to see a few familiar faces, to see if they’ve cleaned my statue up North!”
Pilgrims will empathise with how the 28-year-old inevitably let some of his attention drift back to next Thursday’s semi-final first leg against Pompey.
“It’s such a big game because it’s two big clubs in this part of the country,” Peter said. “It’s going to be a massive game. It’s not just another game; the fact its Portsmouth as well, it’s going to be an interesting fixture. We’ve got the experience of playing last year, we have the core of last year still here and we know how not to start a play-off game.
“Hopefully we go out next Thursday and absolutely play like our lives depend on it. I fully believe we’re going to come out victorious and get to Wembley. When you get there anything can happen and who doesn’t want to play at Wembley?”
The only thing yet to be decided is which team will play the first leg at home. Whichever team finishes higher in the division – Portsmouth edge Argyle on goal difference, and host champions Northampton on Saturday - will have home advantage in the second leg.
Both sides won 2-1 at each other’s ground and Hartley echoed manager Derek Adams’ view that there is no real advantage to be had either way, due to both teams excellent away form.
Pete said: “In my opinion I don’t think it makes any difference whether we’re home or away first, as long as we get to Wembley on the 15th May. Pompey will come here and try and win the game and that suits the way we play with fast players and a very good counterattacking game. If we can catch them on the break at Home Park or Fratton Park we’re going to be a very dangerous outfit.”