Ahead of Carlisle United's clash with Hartlepool United tonight, we get the inside track on the Blues' opponents from Joe Ramage of the Hartlepool Mail.

Thanks to Joe for his insight.

How are Hartlepool performing this season in relation to their expectations?

It has certainly been a bit of a rollercoaster for Pools so far this season. A return to the Football League was celebrated as you would expect and they gave a pretty good account of themselves over the first quarter of the campaign, despite struggling away from home.

The change of manager rocked the boat and Pools haven’t really recovered, in terms of results, since Dave Challinor’s exit, with just one win in 10 since then.

That is not to criticise Antony Sweeney or Graeme Lee, as there is nothing to suggest Pools wouldn’t have gone on such a run under Challinor given a challenging run of fixtures in November and they've had their fair share of misfortune within that run.

Taking two fantastic cup runs out of the equation, the expectation heading into the season was to remain a Football League club come May and despite a poor run of form of late, you would be surprised if Pools slipped into a relegation battle given the cushion they still have over those in the bottom two.

That said, with Pools firmly in the play-off picture after 14 games of the season, the drop off has been a little disappointing.

Why have Hartlepool struggled on their travels?

It’s the million dollar question. For one reason or another Pools just aren’t able to translate their performances at the Vic into their performances on the road.

News and Star: Hartlepool and their fans celebrated a return to the EFL last summer (photo: PA)Hartlepool and their fans celebrated a return to the EFL last summer (photo: PA)

Having said that, Pools are improving if you take their last two away games into account. Saturday’s trip to Bristol Rovers is still likely to be causing players and staff to scratch their heads as to how they came away empty handed. Lee’s side were dominant for large periods of the game but just couldn’t put the ball in the net and were punished in the closing stages.

On Boxing Day, Pools looked in a commanding position at 2-0 up against an in-form Mansfield Town only for a 10 minute spell of madness to throw the points away.

So it feels like they’re getting closer to results on the road, but you have to wonder how those two defeats mentioned impact them mentally. 

What can Carlisle expect from Hartlepool? 

Pools predominantly go with a 5-3-2 with a key part of their game being the use of their wingbacks Jamie Sterry and David Ferguson.

Sterry is suspended for the trip to Carlisle however, after being sent off late in the day at Bristol, so Reagan Ogle will likely deputise for him.

News and Star: Ex-Blue Olufela Olomola scored from the spot for Pools at Brunton Park in the Papa John's Trophy this season (photo: Barbara Abbott)Ex-Blue Olufela Olomola scored from the spot for Pools at Brunton Park in the Papa John's Trophy this season (photo: Barbara Abbott)

However, Lee did throw something of a curve ball in the recent EFL Trophy win over Bolton Wanderers by reverting to a back four with more traditional wingers in Joe Grey and Olufela Olomola, who Carlisle will, of course, know well - and it was an experiment which worked to good effect. 

Pools have also mixed things up in their approach in recent weeks, transitioning from a more pragmatic style with Saturday’s game at Bristol being one of their better displays in pressing high and keeping possession.

Equally though, they are able to play a more direct game and new signing Marcus Carver will allow them to switch between both styles depending on how the game is panning out.

Who are the danger men?

Carver impressed on his debut, keeping another former Carlisle man out of the starting XI in Mark Cullen, and acted as a good foil for Luke Molyneux. Both will certainly work tirelessly if selected. 

News and Star: Mark Cullen, right (photo: PA)Mark Cullen, right (photo: PA)

Gavan Holohan is enjoying a run back in the starting XI and is edging closer to finding himself back on the scoresheet while David Ferguson’s delivery from the left is capable of causing danger to many a defence in the league.

How do you see the game going?

Based on recent results in the league, coupled with Pools’ away form, you would have to lean towards a home victory.

However, Pools did play well at Bristol on Saturday so a lot may depend on how that defeat has impacted them or whether they can replicate that kind of performance. If they do, I would fancy Lee’s side to get a result. 

Carlisle tend to draw more than they win or lose at Brunton Park so I’ll go with a draw to keep both ticking over.