JOHN Hughes believes relegated Hartlepool United paid the price for their woeful start to the season.
The Scot insists that his side’s form during the second half of the campaign should have been enough to keep them in the division.
Hughes inherited a Pools team in mid-November which had just eight points on the board and were propping up the table.
And, while only Portsmouth’s 10-point deduction prevented them from finishing the season in the same position, the points-per-game ratio under Hughes would have been enough to achieve safety over the course of 46 matches.
“We took a lot of points in the second half of the season and, after what went on in the early part of the season, we have improved,” the manager said.
“All credit to the boys – if we had done this all season we might have been mid-table or so.”
The 48-year-old, however, can still find thanks for compatriot and predecessor Neale Cooper despite that costly opening.
“I can say Coops has left me a lot of good players here,” Hughes went on.
“What happens in football is if you get off to a losing start then it’s hard to get momentum, confidence goes and it can be a hard place on a football pitch.
“I tried to find that confidence, get into them mentally and forge a togetherness and spirit.
“With some of the good players Neale left behind it just shows what can be done by working together.”
Pools brought the curtain down on their season with a 2-2 draw at Crawley Town on Saturday.
And Hughes concedes it was a blow to see results elsewhere condemn his side to a 23rd-placed finish.
“We wanted to be as high as we can, it was a disappointment we lost a place,” he said. “But it’s a strange league and you would never think that we are a relegated team on that performance at the weekend – and I’ve said that a few times this season as well.”
Meanwhile, announcements on the future of several first-team players are expected over the course of the next 24 hours.