James challenges Hartlepool United for an opening day win

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LUKE James is calling on his Hartlepool United team-mates to hit the ground running when they kick-off the Sky Bet League Two campaign away to Stevenage.

The much-anticipated 2014-15 fixtures have been officially released and there is much to whet the appetite of Pools fans, desperate for an improvement on last year’s disappointing 19th place finish.

Colin Cooper’s side start their League Two assault away to Stevenage – who were last year relegated from League One – on Saturday, August 9, and teenage striker James is confident of making a strong start.

The 19-year-old, who won Players’ and Fans’ Player of the Year Awards last term, insists a good start is vital.

James said: “I think the first game will be a hard start for us because Stevenage will want to impress after the season they’ve just had.

“But I don’t see why we can’t go there and get the three points and if we do then it will give the players and the fans a big confidence boost.

“The earlier you can get the points on board the better so we want to go there and be positive and get a good start under our belts.”

Following Pools’ trip to Broadhall Way for the Stevenage clash, the first home match at Victoria Park comes the following week against Bury on Saturday, August 16.

A busy opening month also sees a home match against Dagenham & Redbridge (August 19) and away days to AFC Wimbledon (August 23) and Cheltenham Town (August 30).

One fixture that catches the eye is Carlisle United away on the final day of the season, where no doubt the Cumbrian city will be awash with fancy-dress clad Poolies.

The last away day is of course famous for Pools fans turning out in force with Thunderbirds, Smurfs and penguins all making a recent appearance.

Other derby fixtures for the diary include Carlisle at home on Saturday, October 4, York City at home Saturday, November 22 with a visit to the Minstermen on Saturday, April 11.

The festive period sees Pools host Oxford United on December 20 before a Boxing Day visit to Mansfield Town - the seventh successive year Pools have been away from home on December 26 - and then Morecambe at home Sunday, December 28.

There is no New Year’s Day fixture, instead Cooper’s team travel to Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday, January 3.

Meanwhile, the final home game will see Pools host Exeter City - for the second successive year - before that trip to Carlisle on May 2 which has already sparked the imagination of fans and players alike.

“That Carlisle game will be absolutely brilliant – it could be the highlight of the season,” added James.

“Having a kind of local derby on the final day of the season will mean for a good following I would have thought – especially with the fans tending to get dressed up for the last away game.

“I am pretty certain both the fans and the players will love that game at Carlisle – it has the makings of being an incredible day.”

While Carlisle will be one of the closer away days, Pools players and fans are well used to travelling long distances - almost 10,000 gruelling miles this coming season in fact.

The longest trek is a trip down to Plymouth Argyle, some 387.2 miles. That game takes place September 20 and just a few weeks later - on October 11 - the club faces another long journey south to Exeter City.

James though believes getting two of the longer trips out of the way early doors is a good thing.

The highly-rated striker, who bagged 16 goals last season, added: “It could be a real benefit to us to get those longer journeys out of the way early on, especially if we can go down to the likes of Exeter and Plymouth and get some good results.

“When you’re travelling back from journeys like that on the back of a win it makes the travelling go so much quicker too so we’ll be looking forward to those games with positivity,” added James who was talking to the club’s website.

While the overall mileage for round trips has dipped by around 30 miles compared to last season, fans are still facing a round trip of 9,695 miles in 2014-15 if they want to see every game.