MATCH REPORT: Anniversary match has familiar feel for Hartlepool United

Jonathan Franks in action against Rochdale.
Jonathan Franks in action against Rochdale.
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THIS was an official anniversary celebration of the Football League’s most-played fixture – it certainly had a familiar feel.

At least it did for the long-suffering Pools supporters who endured opening-day despair for the second time in 12 months.

No goals, needless concessions, the game petering toward an inevitable conclusion.

It is a script which has been penned before.

There were positives, yes, and Colin Cooper and his squad must extract what good they can from such a disappointing defeat.

But concern is the overriding emotion and that cannot be ignored.

Concern that we have been here before – we have been here for the best part of three seasons.

Cooper is desperately using every ounce of charm, enthusiasm and optimism to alter such thinking, to reverse mindset to a positive direction.

But, on this evidence, there is work to be done, and plenty of it.

The same players, the same failings.

Scott Hogan’s opener was, to the neutral observer, a thing of beauty.

Collecting the ball some 30 yards from goal he skipped clear of all who opposed him before curling delightfully into the bottom corner.

Closer examination, however, poses questions we have long since pondered.

Why did Hogan inherit possession – from a throw-in, no less – in such voluminous surroundings?

Why did two Pools midfielders fail to impede his progress toward the danger zone?

And why, having completed his entry into the penalty area, was he allowed to size his goal-bound dispatch with such comfort?

To neglect what had gone before Hogan’s breakthrough goal, however, would be unwise, for Pools had started brightly.

Chances were fashioned, good chances at that.

Antony Sweeney freed Jack Compton who squared for Jon Franks. Saved.

Franks located the brow of Sweeney just yards from goal moments later. Missed.

Two opportunities of the “gilt-edged” variety. Four strikers sat on the bench wishing to have been on the end of them.

By the time the first-half had expired Pools were fortunate to still be within one goal.

But, within seconds of the restart, Sweeney, this time supplied by Compton, spurned another close-range header.

It was a defining moment.

By the hour mark the hosts were three goals to the good. Game over.

Middlesbrough loanee Christian Burgess had lunged, needlessly, on Matthew Lund at the expense of a penalty, George Donnelly smashing home from 12 yards.

And then, from Hogan’s routine throughball, Sam Collins was caught in desperate need of a younger man’s legs as Ian Henderson peeled away on his shoulder before dropping a classy finish over Scott Flinders.

Heads bowed, Pools meandered through the motions for the remainder, only substitute James Poole threatening to steal a consolation.

Collins had been exposed, Burgess naïve, an out-of-position Peter Hartley tortured by winger – and man-of-the-match – Peter Vincenti.

Brad Walker, a full debutant at 17 years of age, had done well, as had midfield sidekick Jack Baldwin and, on occasion, wingers Compton and Franks.

There is, then, promise with which Cooper can work.

And he will.

For him, as he stated afterwards, it is game No.1 of 50.

The biggest challenge he perhaps faces is convincing the club’s followers – and even players – that this is not game No.50, a tedious continuation of last season’s woes.

He has time and desire on his side.

He is positivity personified.

First, though, he must banish the negativity of this sorry start.