Hartlepool United 1 Colchester 1: Roy Kelly’s Pools analysis

Billy Paynter is congratulated by team mates after his spot-kick. Picture by FRANK REID
Billy Paynter is congratulated by team mates after his spot-kick. Picture by FRANK REID
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Don’t judge a book by it’s cover or it’s a marathon not a sprint.

Please select from the choice of cliches – perhaps with the Olympics getting under way at the weekend that the marathon one might be the most appropriate.

Credit must go to the manager for being positive and backing his ambition by selecting his four principal attackers

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It’s impossible to judge how well – or otherwise – Hartlepool United might do on just one showing.

You don’t know how good Colchester might be, though on the evidence of Saturday, the U’s look a fairly strong side.

Could Pools be medallists this season? Of course they can – pre-season optimism will not have evaporated after a draw with a side having just come down from League One.

A point will have been accepted by the majority of the crowd and the home camp.

While there was plenty to encourage the faithful at the Northern Power & Gas Stadium that optimism will not be misplaced, there will be realism too.

Colchester could easily have taken all three points and their new boss John McGreal may, inwardly, be a little cross that they didn’t.

Kurtis Guthrie had the home goal at his mercy late on and fired wide before Trevor Carson saved smartly from Dion Sembie-Ferris in the first minute of stoppage time.

Overall, in terms of the stats, a draw was a fair outcome – Pools bossed the possession but the shot count, efforts on target and corner tally were incredibly close.

Pools had 10 attempts to the U’s 11, but the hosts edged the on-target figures and corners, 4-2 and 3-2.

But the pertinent numbers for Pools are four and three.

Boss Craig Hignett plumped for a 4-4-2 system, shelving his favoured 4-3-3.

Going back to the very first line of this piece, perhaps it would be wrong of your Mail writer, who could not play football to save his life, to query systems.

Hignett has forgotten more about the game than this reporter will ever know.

But Pools do not seem as effective as a 4-4-2 as they are as a 4-3-3.

Credit must go to the manager for being positive and backing his ambition by selecting his four principal attackers, Lewis Alessandra, Padraig Amond, Billy Paynter and Nathan Thomas.

It appeared that one would miss out, because the numbers did not appear to add up, but the decision to go 4-4-2 ensured they all fitted in.

Paynter and Amond were through the middle, with Thomas on the left and Alessandra on the right.

All four made positive contributions – Paynter showed his composure from the spot to earn Pools their point and Amond had a couple of sights of goal.

Alessandra fitted in nicely on the right side and, as he had in pre-season, links very nicely with his team-mates. He clearly can play a bit.

And Thomas can play a lot. He tortured the U’s on numerous occasions and drew the foul which brought Pools their penalty.

In this mood, Thomas is unplayable, and you would have to concede Hignett’s attacking philosophy was justified given the way his attacking talents performed.

But his formation put a lot on the shoulders of Nicky Featherstone and Lewis Hawkins in the centre of the pitch.

Top marks to both players for the way they played, they certainly performed to a high standard.

However, Pools look more effective with a midfield trio – the passing distances certainly looked considerably longer on Saturday as opposed to when the triumvirate are knocking the ball around with comfort.

But we shall see, it was match one out of 46, the system may well take hold and flourish.

The desire is there to attack and on Saturday, that was evident from both sides.

Colchester could have been in front in just 14 seconds as they raced forward into the box where Sammie Szmodics could not connect cleanly and his ‘shot’ rebounded off Jake Carroll.

Pools went straight up the other end and appealed for a penalty when Alessandra went down in the area.

A minute had not elapsed and there could easily have been a goal at either end.

But we did not have long to wait. Toto Nsiala showed his great athleticism to outpace Chris Porter, only for his attempted backpass to Carson to fall nicely for the striker to set up Szmodics with Rob Jones doing well to get a block in and deflect it for a corner.

But from the flagkick, Pools could not clear and Tom Eastman shot high into the home net and the Essex boys were 1-0 up in four minutes.

Pools responded with Amond having a shot cleared, Hawkins shooting wide and Alessandra having an effort comfortably held by Walker.

But when Featherstone, Thomas and Alessandra combined in a neat move, Thomas scampered into the box where Craig Slater brought him down.

Paynter never misses from the spot and he put the ball into Walker’s bottom left corner with the goalie heading forlornly in the opposite direction.

It was the cue for Pools to get at the U’s with Amond heading wide from Carroll’s cross and then blazing over from Thomas’s delivery.

Thomas then skinned Richard Brindley before putting in the perfect cross into the six-yard box but there was no blue shirt there to apply a scoring touch.

After the break, alas, more chances seemed to fall to the U’s, but Slater, Szomodics and Eastman were all off-target.

Yes, there was a lot of attacking pressure for Pools, with Tom Lapslie having to block Alessandra’s shot while Walker’s hands were warmed by a Thomas piledriver.

However, Colchester spurned a glorious opening 13 minutes from time when Sembie-Ferris sent Guthrie clear only for the midfielder to shoot wide of Carson’s left-post.

And in the first-minute of stoppage time, Sembie-Ferris found room in the area but Carson got down well to save to his right.

It ensured the contest, deservedly, ended all square and the marathon now moves on, aptly, to Exeter this Saturday.