Hartlepool United go toe-to-toe with table-topping Chesterfield – but there’s no knockout punch

Ritchie Humphrey lines up against his old club Hartlepool. Pic by Tina Jenner
Ritchie Humphrey lines up against his old club Hartlepool. Pic by Tina Jenner

IT seemed appropriate that Hartlepool United’s match against Chesterfield was played on Boxing Day.

Because the frantic 90 minutes was like watching two heavyweight boxers slug it out over 12 rounds.

Both Pools and the Spireites went toe-to-toe in front of a packed and very vocal festive crowd but neither side could eventually produce the knock-out blow and it ended 1-1.

The game was entertaining, enthralling, gripping, end-to-end and in truth either side could have come away from the Proact Stadium with all three points.

The Sky Bet League Two encounter against ex-Poolie Ritchie Humphrey’s Chesterfield side had everything; goals, injuries, a penalty, a sending off for Andy Monkhouse, debatable decisions and high drama.

Colin Cooper said the action on the touchline involving the Pools and Chesterfield bench and the fourth official Anthony Tankard was “slapstick comedy” at times but he had nothing but praise for the performance of his players on the pitch.

While his players may have lost further ground on the teams in the play-off positions, they cannot be faulted for their commitment and endeavour against the side that tops Sky Bet League Two.

Most supporters probably would have taken a point away to Chesterfield before kick-off and in the end it was a fair result, despite the best efforts of the referee Gary Sutton.

The point away from home means it is now four consecutive draws for Pools, after draws against Portsmouth, Cheltenham and Burton Albion.

While it means Pools are difficult to beat, it also means Cooper’s side is struggling to show the killer instinct needed to take all three points and they are unable to drag themselves out of the middle of League Two.

But the busy festive period means games are never far away and the next two matches – against Morecambe away on Sunday and Bury at home on New Year’s Day – are at least further opportunities to take all three points.

That task though will be even harder now that Cooper will be missing Monkhouse, suspended after picking up two yellows against Chesterfield, and Jack Compton, who hobbled off with a pulled right calf muscle.

Compton isn’t expected to be back in a blue and white shirt for at least a fortnight, possibly longer, and that is a blow to Cooper.

While Pools have been lucky with injuries so far, the loss of Monkhouse and Compton, will put a strain on a relatively small squad in the short term at least.

Michael Duckworth also took a hefty knock to his head against Paul Cook’s Chesterfield, while Matty Dolan and Christian Burgess both picked up minor ankle injuries but were able to continue.

So, it was a bruising encounter for Cooper’s heavyweights but they once again showed great resilience to come from a goal behind and take a point.

It was certainly better than last season’s FA Cup First Round 6-1 humiliation against the same team.

The Boxing Day performance in a way showed how far Pools had come in the past 12-months, under the stewardship of Cooper and Craig Hignett. All they are missing at the moment is wins, as easy as that eh?

Pools though were more than a match for Chesterfield, who had the tireless Humphreys bombing forward down the left-wing at every opportunity.

Indeed, he was awarded the man of the match for the home side and the PFA chairman was well deserving after an outstanding display, showing there is life after Pools.

But it was his former team mates, down to 10 men for the final 20 minutes, who took many of the plaudits.

Most sides that have gone behind to Chesterfield this season have failed to come back but not so for Pools.

Cooper had made two changes, with 17-year-old Brad Walker and forward Jonathan Franks starting in place of benched Simon Walton and James Poole, and it was a frantic and breathless start.

Franks had the first clear opportunity but his dipping volley on the turn was wonderfully palmed over the bar by Tommy Lee in the third minute.

The Spireites hit back quickly and in the ninth minute Jack Baldwin had to acrobatically clear off the line from Armand Gnanduillet.

Both sides were pressing forward but Pools were dealt their first blow in the 18th minute – Compton coming off and James Poole coming onto replace him.

The entertaining game was end to end, with the excellent Dolan and Walker in the centre always looking to get forward.

Monkhouse and Dolan both had decent chances but couldn’t take them, while the Chesterfield powerhouse Gnanduillet was continuing to cause Pools problems.

Eoin Doyle had Flinders flying through the air in the 28th minute but his 22-yard shot was just wide of the right-hand post but it wasn’t long before they took the lead.

Monkhouse was penalised for an alleged foul inside their area and from the resulting long ball, Marc Richards found himself in space on the left hand flank.

His cross found Darikwa 12-yards out and his controlled first-time volley was placed perfectly passed Flinders.

Cooper’s men had finished the final minutes of the first half strongly and they carried that momentum into the second, equalising in the 48th minute courtesy of a Dolan penalty after Poole was fouled by Sam Hird.

How last man Hird was not sent off remains a mystery.

It was a clear goalscoring opportunity but for some reason, unbeknown to everybody else, referee Gary Sutton decided against red carding Hird as Dolan stepped up to strike the ball into the corner of the net.

Hartlepool-born Dolan took the rare opportunity to celebrate with the delighted 588-strong Poolie faithful.

Chesterfield then had two good chances to pull themselves back in front but Richards and then Gnanduillet fired high over Flinders’ bar and if anything the pace and intensity of the match racked up a notch.

Monkhouse was then booked for a dive in the penalty area, a decision he would later rue.

Moments later goalscorer Darikwa went into the referee’s book for a late challenge on Monkhouse on the left wing and not for the first time, the red mist descended on Monkhouse.

Because not long after the veteran winger received his second yellow of the match and his marching orders for a hefty challenge in the air on Drew Talbot, who lashed out with his feet but escaped any further action himself.

The influential Dolan then had further chances to score, with one effort scraping the post, while Jay O’Shea and Marc Richards both had good chances to score but O’Shea’s was straight into the hands of Flinders while Richards’ curled his effort wide.

Both sides continued to probe looking for the winner and Ian Evatt did well to wriggle free inside the penalty area but his shot was weak.

In the final few seconds, the tireless James produced a stunning strike from 25-yards out but it was just tipped over the bar by a flying Lee.

It would certainly have been some way to win what was a thoroughly entertaining match.

Supporters of both sides certainly felt like they had their moneys worth from the bruising Boxing Day encounter and Cooper and Co will now be hoping to land a few knock-out punches of their own.

Starting on Sunday against Morecambe.