Richard Mennear’s Analysis: Christmas comes too soon at Victoria Park

Scott Fenwick celebrates after scoring his first goal for Hartlepool United on his home debut against York City. Picture by FRANK REID
Scott Fenwick celebrates after scoring his first goal for Hartlepool United on his home debut against York City. Picture by FRANK REID

CHRISTMAS may be a little over a month away but the festive season came early for York City as Pools gift wrapped and hand delivered them all three points.

Russ Wilcox’s side couldn’t believe their luck at Pools’ second-half collapse which presented victory on a plate to their relegation rivals.

Adam Campbell in action against York City. Picture by FRANK REID

Adam Campbell in action against York City. Picture by FRANK REID

It was almost beyond a joke.

After a shaky first 15 minutes, Pools then dominated, playing some of their best football of the season, certainly under Paul Murray.

Not that the barometer has been set very high, but Pools had an average-looking York side on the ropes.

Scott Fenwick delivered what supporters hoped would be the first knock-out blow of the afternoon, marking his full debut with a close-range finish to give Pools the lead after 27 minutes.

Michael Duckworth is injured during the game against York City. Picture by FRANK REID

Michael Duckworth is injured during the game against York City. Picture by FRANK REID

Further chances came and went for both the 24-year-old plucked from non-league and his far more experienced strike partner, Marlon Harewood, who both bullied the York defence.

The home side would be left to rue those missed opportunities.

Not that Fenwick and Harewood can be blamed for the second-half capitulation.

At the interval, Pools were in total control of proceedings and looked like closing the gap on their relegation rivals at the bottom of the Football League.

Marlon Harewood in action against York City. Picture by FRANK REID

Marlon Harewood in action against York City. Picture by FRANK REID

Yet within the space of 10 second-half minutes Pools conceded THREE goals and the shell-shocked players never recovered.

It left Murray tearing his cropped hair out, while supporters looked on in abject horror at their side’s collapse.

If supporters were worried about relegation to the conference before the match then this performance hit them like a sledgehammer.

What transpired on the Victoria Park pitch in the second-half was embarrassing, bordering on inept.

Joe Ironside in action against York City. Picture by FRANK REID

Joe Ironside in action against York City. Picture by FRANK REID

Before the game Murray had stressed how big this game was – a must-win, an early six-pointer – call it what you like.

Well, the harsh reality is Pools lost. A 12th defeat of the season leaves them six points adrift of safety, with a measly 12 points and a goal difference of minus 18.

Those stats are getting worse as the weeks go by for Pools, who are winless in six League Two matches.

Since they last tasted victory, away to Exeter City in mid-October, Pools have picked up just one point losing five out of those six and conceding 13 goals along the way.

Defeat to York was a morale-sapping, confidence draining defeat.

What made it more frustrating was that there was a renewed sense of optimism pre kick-off following the announcement of three new signings.

Goalkeeper Jon Maxted was named on the bench alongside new loan strikers Adam Campbell from Newcastle United, and Joe Ironside, from Sheffield United.

But while those are welcome, the club waved goodbye to Scott Harrison and Charlie Wyke following their loan spells, to once again leave an under-strength squad.

There was a frantic start to proceedings in front of the biggest home crowd of the season, with the visitors carving out the first chance after less than a minute.

Jake Hyde took advantage of a mistake by Harrison but his low angled shot from inside the area was easily blocked by Scott Flinders.

Pools fought their way back into the match amd had a strong penalty appeal turned down when Michael Duckworth was body-checked by Stephane Zubar.

The ball broke free but Brad Walker’s follow-up shot was saved by Alex Cisak.

Murray’s side then got a deserved breakthrough in the 27th minute. Harewood bustled his way into the penalty area and played the ball across to Fenwick who scrambled it home from three yards. The former Dunston UTS star should have had two more shortly after.

First he narrowly failed to connect in a similar position before heading over from a couple of yards out – but at least he was in the right position.

Two minutes before the break it was Harewood’s turn to miss, screwing his angled shot wide from 12-yards out.

Pools had dominated and confidence was high at the break of only a fourth win of the season.

They had Flinders to thank for maintaining their slim lead two minutes into the second half, the stopper making a great diving save to prevent Zubar equalising.

Then it all started to unravel. On the 50 minute mark, Fenwick was denied what looked a clear penalty.

He was brought down by Femi Ilesanmi but again the appeals were rejected and it proved costly as York equalised three minutes later.

Flinders produced another fine finger-tip save to turn the ball around for a York corner, from which Keith Lowe evaded Sam Collins to power home a towering header.

Things went from bad to worse two minutes later.

From a short corner routine, York captain Russ Penn was given far too much time and space to cross for Lowe.

Again he had got away from Collins to head York into a 2-1 lead from six yards out.

That quickly became 3-1, the turnaround complete in the 63rd minute. The ball broke to Hyde on the edge of the penalty area and he broke into the box before finishing coolly past Flinders to seal the win.

Three goals in 10 minutes crushed Pools and they never recovered. On came Ironside and Campbell but Pools looked ragged and the game petered out with a whimper.

To add insult to injury, Duckworth hobbled off with a groin problem.

Walker had a late shot cleared off the line but it was the best Pools could muster as they limped to defeat. Again.

Worryingly, Hartlepool no longer having a football league club is fast becoming a very realistic possibility.