Liam Kennedy’s analysis: Pointless end to an ill-conceived competition for Pools

Billy Paynter threatens the Rochdale goal. Picture by Joe Spence
Billy Paynter threatens the Rochdale goal. Picture by Joe Spence
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Hartlepool United will be glad to see the back of the Checkatrade Trophy.

And, to be honest, given the success of the competition so far, they won’t be the only ones.

A club record low crowd of 380, the lowest ever at a Pools home game in any competition, turned out to see Craig Hignett’s men complete a clean sweep, having lost their two previous outings against Notts County and Sunderland Under-23s.

Goals from Reuben Noble- Lazarus and Matthew Gillam saw already-through Dale cruise to a comfortable two-goal lead, before Rhys Oates strike with just four minutes left on the clock reduced the arrears.

From the off, this one felt like a meaningless encounter.

Well, let’s not beat around the bush, it had absolutely no meaning apart from getting a few fringe men gametime, as well as being an opportunity to test a few kids in first-team football.

Hignett made seven changes for the Dale dead-rubber, from the side which saw off non-league Stamford in the FA Cup at the weekend.

Adam Bartlett came in for Trevor Carson in goal, with the Northern Irishman away on international duty.

Jordan Richards kept his place on the right of the back four, as did Matthew Bates, playing just his second game since August, alongside him. Scott Harrison and youngster James Martin completed the back four.

Liam Donnelly, fresh after missing the weekend victory through suspension, slotted into holding midfield playing alongside Michael Woods and Brad Walker.

Up top, club captain Billy Paynter got a run after his goal on Sunday, supported by Nicky Deverdics and Jake Orrell.

It was the visitors who started this one the brighter of the two, and they should have been in front early on when Gillam headed over the top of Bartlett’s bar from a central position, just seven yards from goal.

It was a let-off for Pools, and one they took heed of.

Almost immediately, sparked into life, they almost bagged an opener of their own – a Deverdics corner from the right was flapped at by Joshua Lillis and, picking up the loose ball, Donnelly was unable to turn home.

With Pools finding their feet in the game, Woods was an influential figure in the middle, as ever.

His energy in defensive situations to hassle and harry the opposition was invaluable, much like he did on Sunday. And his composure on the ball is also something Pools have maybe missed when the chips have been down in recent weeks.

But, on the break, Dale broke the deadlock.

A slide rule pass set Noble-Lazarus free down the left-hand side of the box and the forward finished into the bottom corner of Bartlett’s net.

Dale should have had a second soon after. And again it was Gillam who was wasteful. Picking up a loose ball from a corner, the wideman hammered over the top when it looked easier to score.

As the half wore on the difference between the sides, in terms of levels, began to become ever more apparent.

While early on Walker, on his long-awaited return to the starting line-up, was seeing plenty of ball, Woods pulling the strings and Donnelly looking comfortable, heading towards half-time the Pools midfield began to chase shadows.

Dale’s dominance continued as the half-time whistle neared – this time it was Andrew Cannon who smashed past the post from the penalty spot.

At the interval, it was fair to say that Pools’ goal was living a charmed life with the visitors dominant.

Things didn’t change much after the break, either, with Dale’s Gillam, off the right, and Cannon, through the middle, particularly prominent.

Just three minutes after the restart, goalscorer Noble-Lazarus flashed a left-footed fizzing effort inches wide for the visitors.

Switching to two up front with around 30 minutes to go, bringing Oates back into the fray, Pools went in search of a leveller.

And they almost found it when Donnelly struck a rasping shot from distance, but Lillis, in the visiting goal, was equal to it.

Just as Pools looked to be working a way back into it, Dale struck at the other end.

A well-worked move down Pools’ left found its way to youngster Gillam, via the lively Nathaniel Mendez Laing, and the teenager made no mistake from close range.

At the other end,Harrison, who was probably Pools’ stand-out man on the night, deflected a goal-bound Joseph Rafferty shot over the top before Oates struck for Pools to set up an exciting finish.

With just four minutes left, Oates was played in by Orrell and, taking advantage of a slip by keeper Lillis, the striker slotted home confidently.

Thanks to the best efforts of Harrison McGahey, who nodded off the underside of Pools’ bar from just two yards, the score stayed the same.

Another defeat and little learned for Hignett.

But, at the end of the day, what did it matter anyway?

A pointless end to an ill-conceived competition.

Hartlepool United (with player ratings): Adam Bartlett 6, Jordan Richards 6, Matthew Bates (Harly Wise 46, 6) 6, Scott Harrison 7, James Martin (Ben Pollock, 74, 6) 6, Liam Donnelly 5, Michael Woods 6, Brad Walker 5, Jake Orrell 5, Billy Paynter 5, Nicky Deverdics (Oates 64, 6) 6. Subs: Ben Dudzinski, Lewis Hawkins, Josh Laurent, Kenton Richardson.

Rochdale: Lillis, Rafferty, McNulty, McGahey, Tanser, Gillam, Thompson (Barry-Murphy 56), Morley, Rathbone, Noble-Lazarus, Cannon (Mendez-Laing 60), Barry-Murphy (Bunney 77). Subs not used: Diba Musangu, Hollins. Goals: Noble-Lazarus 21, Gillam 67.

Att: 380. Ref: Scott Duncan (Tyne & Wear).