Richard Mennear’s analysis: Away form is killing Hartlepool United’s survival hopes after 2-0 defeat to Dagenham

Jack Compton in action last night
Jack Compton in action last night

HOPE one minute, despair the next.

This season has been a see-saw of emotions for Hartlepool United fans and the desperate 2-0 defeat at Dagenham & Redbridge summed the campaign up.

Pools had gone into the match on the back of a morale-boosting 1-0 win over Wimbledon.

Hope had been restored that perhaps the Great Escape could happen after all.

Victory last night could have pushed them to within three points of safety.

Instead, an own goal and a stunning 35-yard free-kick left Pools languishing at the bottom, seven points from safety, with hope fading fast.

Dagenham keeper Mark Cousins and Hartlepool United striker Ryan Bird are left on the ground after a first half clash. Picture by FRANK REID

Dagenham keeper Mark Cousins and Hartlepool United striker Ryan Bird are left on the ground after a first half clash. Picture by FRANK REID

Pools, it seems, have left themselves with too much to do with too few games left. Just 12 remain.

The problem doesn’t lie with the home games, Pools have improved on that front in recent weeks, winning four on home soil since the turn of the year.

The problem – and it is a major problem – is the dire away form.

Just two wins away all season.

The squad hasn’t won on their travels since October. They haven’t kept a clean sheet away from Victoria Park in 22 league matches stretching back to last season.

The squad hasn’t won on their travels since October, they haven’t kept a clean sheet away from Victoria Park in 22 league matches stretching back to last season.

Ronnie Moore hasn’t won an away game since taking charge and it doesn’t look like changing anytime soon.

Back-to-back wins has become an impossible ask this season too, in fact you have to go back to February 2014 for the last time that happened.

They build a little momentum with a win at Victoria Park but then it evaporates days later when they leave the safety of home soil.

Nicky Featherstone in action for Hartlepool United at Dagenham. Picture by FRANK REID

Nicky Featherstone in action for Hartlepool United at Dagenham. Picture by FRANK REID

If, as looks highly likely, Pools find themselves playing Conference football next season, then the away form will have been a major factor.

Yes, Pools were unfortunate with regards the goals they conceded last night.

But they didn’t do enough up the other end to trouble the Daggers defence.

In the end it proved a comfortable night for Wayne Burnett’s men, and they were relegation rivals a few weeks back.

They have managed to pull themselves clear by stringing together results, something Pools seem incapable of.

Michael Woods, out for the season, was a huge miss last night. His runs and passes cut open defences.

Scott Harrison in first half action for Hartlepool United at Dagenham. Picture by FRANK REID

Scott Harrison in first half action for Hartlepool United at Dagenham. Picture by FRANK REID

Nicky Featherstone and Aaron Tshibola are too similar and Pools missed that element in their game.

Jonathan Franks was disappointing again, with Ryan Bird and Connor Smith feeding off scraps.

This was another must win but the players weren’t up to the challenge.

It was poor and it made for a long trip home for the 123 Pools fans that made the long trek.

Moore made just one change following the Dons win, Featherstone in for Woods.

Woods, the star performer in recent weeks, is out for the season following a dislocated ankle and fractured fibula and his ability to pick a killer pass was a big loss for Pools.

They did, however, come roaring out of the blocks at Victoria Road, pressing and probing from the off – winning six corners in the opening 20 minutes.

But for all their play, possession and energy, they created little in front of goal.

Bird – the matchwinning hero against Dons – and 18-year-old Smith were feeding off scraps for the entire 45 minutes.

They were made to pay in the 22nd minute.

The goal, which came just moments after Daggers keeper Mark Cousins had been subbed after a heavy blow with the post, was a poor one.

Dangerous Ashley Hemmings was given too much time and space on the left wing to cross and Scott Harrison stuck out a boot and diverted the ball past a helpless Scott Flinders from six yards.

Pools kept their heads despite going behind, with Jack Compton, in particular, continuing to press the Daggers defence.

But it was Burnett’s side that almost doubled their lead moments before the break, Hemmings hitting the right-hand post with a header.

It took until three minutes after the re-start for Pools to have their first attempt on target.

On-loan Cambridge United striker Bird with a 25-yard volley that was just about dealt with by sub keeper Liam O’Brien, who had earlier come on for Cousins who had been taken to hospital.

Flinders saved low from 39-year-old Jamie Cureton in the 61st minute, moments before Moore made a double sub.

Smith and Franks were hooked, with Marlon Harewood and on-loan Middlesbrough winger Jordan Jones coming on to kick-start Pools.

Jones’ impact was instant, winning a free-kick on the edge of the area, Compton’s effort cleared.

Pools were showing signs that they may get something from the game when Daggers stormed into a 2-0 lead.

Billy Bingham’s sublime free-kick from 35-yards curled into the top left-hand corner of the net, giving Flinders no chance.

You know when your luck is out, an own goal and a 35-yard free-kick into the top corner, mind a proper wall may have helped.

Harewood then swivelled inside the area before shooting low towards the front post, O’Brien alert to make the save.

Michael Duckworth came closest to scoring for Moore’s side, his powerful effort turned over the bar in the 90th minute.

Pools struggled to create and as a result the Daggers eased their way to a 2-0 victory in the final stages.

Victoria Park has become a fortress in recent weeks, with four wins our of five.

But the away form is dismal.

And Moore has to find a winning formula soon, before it really is too late.

Daggers (4-3-3): Cousins (O’Brien, 22), Doe, Bingham (Carr, 90), Howell, Hemmings, Obileye, Boucard, Widdowson, Batt, Cureton, Fenelon (Jakubiak, 76).

Subs Not Used: Saah, Labadie, Jones.

Goals: Harrison OG (22), Bingham (66)

Pools (4-4-2): Flinders (C), Duckworth, Harrison, Mirfin, Austin, Franks (J. Jones, 62), Featherstone (Walker, 84), Tshibola, Compton, Smith (Harewood, 62), Bird.

Subs Not Used: Maxted, Richards, D Jones, Morgan.

Booked: Tshibola (90)

Referee: Darren Deadman (Cambridgeshire)

Attendance: 1,791 (123 Pools)

David Mirfin in action for Hartlepool United at Dagenham. Picture by FRANK REID

David Mirfin in action for Hartlepool United at Dagenham. Picture by FRANK REID