Analysis: Signs of improvement for Hartlepool but injuries a concern ahead of Morecambe

Billy Paynter in action for Hartlepool United against Chesterfield. Picture by FRANK REID
Billy Paynter in action for Hartlepool United against Chesterfield. Picture by FRANK REID

Ronnie Moore was almost late for the kick-off against Chesterfield.

Having left his house in Yorkshire in plenty of time, the Pools boss was caught up in a major traffic jam on the A1 which saw him finally arrive at The Vic with just 20 minutes to spare.

Ritchie Humphreys applauds the fans

Ritchie Humphreys applauds the fans

Jokes of whether or not he would have to pay a fine were flying around the first team dressing room pre-match – something he strongly disagreed with.

Arriving at 2.40pm, Moore was a relieved man. And he was even more relieved come the final whistle after a much-improved display.

The final friendly of a long nine-game pre-season programme may have ended in a narrow defeat. But for much of the game, Pools were more than a match for their League One opponents.

Seven days prior, Moore had kept his players behind for a dressing room dressing down after the 5-3 defeat to Gateshead, which was littered with defensive errors.

It led to days off being cancelled and a strong side playing non-league Dunston in a bid to crack the 3-5-2 formation. That hard work appears to have paid off, with Pools looking far more organised.

And that was with two key players missing – Trevor Carson out with a badly bruised toe and Dan Jones a major doubt for the start of the season with a back injury.

But Adam Bartlett is an experienced keeper and he is certainly pushing Carson for a start – whether the Northern Ireland international is fit or not.

Matthew Bates was called in to the back three, with Carl Magnay again deployed in the holding midfield role. He impressed, breaking up play and spreading the play.

Many more positives than negatives for Moore then.

Pre-season has been a mixed bag, with comfortable wins over non-league opposition coupled with heavy defeats against Scunthorpe and Gateshead. But, as always, it is an opportunity to hone systems and for players to get ‘minutes under their belt’.

Moore would have preferred to end with a win in front of the home support but he saw enough to suggest Pools have a good chance of a successful season this year.

Going from finishing third bottom to challenging for promotion is a big ask. Expectation levels have risen and Moore will try to keep a lid on it. If Pools start well though, then momentum, as we saw last season with Wycombe Wanderers, goes a long way in League Two.

Chesterfield, who named ex-Pools legend Ritchie Humphreys on the bench, provided a stern test, a good work out on a sun-kissed Victoria Park pitch, which looked fantastic after the summer renovations.

Pools played the ball about well, with Michael Woods again impressing – the 25-year-old wasting no time getting back to his best after a six month absence with a dislocated ankle and fractured fibula.

He linked up with Billy Paynter, who held the ball up well but didn’t trouble Tommy Lee in the Chesterfield goal much.

Paynter – handed the captain’s armband – has forged a promising partnership with pacy strike partner Rakish Bingham in the friendlies, with Moore set to name those two against Morecambe after their fourth successive start.

It’s harsh on last season’s leading scorer in the league, Scott Fenwick, who has had to make do with a role from the bench but at least Moore now has good options up front, with Rhys Oates also pushing hard.

The game itself was a typical pre-season friendly. Fast-paced from the off but it lacked the intensity of a normal league match.

Chances were also few and far between, with both sides defending well.

Bartlett was called on to make a couple of smart saves, with the ex-Gateshead stopper getting down low to deny Sylvan Ebanks-Blake after 35 minutes.

Up the other end Paynter was showing good strength to hold the ball up, with Bingham, who had a shot deflected early on, again looking sharp.

Woods flashed a shot inches wide and Paynter should have scored, or at least hit the target, but instead fired his effort over the bar, with the score goalless at the break.

Shortly after the re-start, Scott Harrison had to be alert to get a strong block in the way of Ebanks-Blake’s goal-bound effort - with Jay O’Shea heading over from the resulting corner.

Magnay should have scored just past the hour mark. After good work from Woods and Bingham, Magnay sliced his 20-yard effort wide into the Town End terraces.

The breakthrough came in the 75th minute and it was all a little too easy from a Pools perspective.

Sam Morsy ran onto Ebanks-Blake’s clever flick-on through the centre of the Pools defence before finishing well past Bartlett.

Pools almost levelled straight away but Paynter couldn’t quite stretch enough to connect to a low ball across the six-yard box. Featherstone’s low strike then forced Lee into an excellent save.

Oates and Brad Walker both had late chances but failed to make the most of them.

So, defeat but a good workout and positive signs from Pools. As for Moore, he won’t be late again – you can guarantee that.

And he will be hoping his team turn up when the new League Two season finally gets underway.