Richard Mennear’s analysis: Hartlepool need to improve quickly if they are to avoid relegation

Jordan Hugill battles for the ball at Luton
Jordan Hugill battles for the ball at Luton
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DO any of the three sides battling relegation actually want to stay up this season?

Of course they do but you have to ask the question after another weekend of missed opportunities and heavy defeats for Hartlepool United, Cheltenham Town and Tranmere Rovers.

The way things are going Pools could stay up without winning another match - imagine that.

Ronnie Moore’s side are now winless in five matches after the 3-0 defeat to Luton Town, yet incredibly they remain out of the bottom two.

Just two matches now remain in Sky Bet League Two, Exeter City at home on Saturday followed by THAT trip to Carlisle United.

Pools could, of course, be safe this weekend, if the results go the right way, but it looks highly likely to be going down to the wire.

Because judging by the first 20 minutes against John Still’s Luton, you wouldn’t bet on Pools winning again this season.

With on-loan Scunthorpe United defender David Mirfin missing with a toe injury, Moore reverted to 4-4-2 but Dan Jones, Scott Harrison, Neil Austin and Michael Duckworth were all over the place.

Defensively, you won’t see a worse performance all season. It was dismal. It was embarrassing.

Time and time again Luton bombed forward, smelling blood, and they looked like they were going to win at a canter.

Dan Jones in action for Hartlepool United against Luton Town. Picture by FRANK REID

Dan Jones in action for Hartlepool United against Luton Town. Picture by FRANK REID

But thanks to a combination of poor finishing and the gloves of Scott Flinders, Pools were lucky to find themselves just 2-0 down at half-time.

In the end it still proved a comfortable afternoon for the home side in front of 8,000 supporters at Kenilworth Road.

Yet when news broke of both Tranmere and Cheltenham losing badly, a fresh air of optimism swept over the away end.

Aside from a further dent to the goal difference, nothing had changed at the bottom.

Defensively, you won’t see a worse performance all season. It was dismal. It was embarrassing.

And for the final 20 minutes, the supporters were singing at full pelt “Don’t worry, about a ting, cos every little ting is gonna be alright.”

That was in recognition of the Bob Marley/reggae themed away day at Carlisle on the final day of the season.

Moore is worried though.

Both about his side’s defending and the lack of chances his side are managing to create.

He knows Pools cannot keep relying on those get out of jail free cards that are being handed out so readily at the moment.

His players, who managed four straight wins in March, need to rediscover that form quickly.

Aaron Tshibola (stripes) looks shocked after conceding a penalty for Luton's second goal on Saturday

Aaron Tshibola (stripes) looks shocked after conceding a penalty for Luton's second goal on Saturday

A win against Exeter could see Pools safe if Tranmere lose at play-off chasing Plymouth and Cheltenham lose against title-hopefuls Shrewsbury Town next weekend.

But it remains a big IF, especially if Mirfin is missing again.

The Hatters had lost eight out of their last 10 - including their last four at home - yet still find themselves on the edge of the play-offs.

While that would have provided some hope, trips to Luton have been far from fruitful.

Indeed, the last win down there came way back in 1967, with Pools now failing to win on their last nine visits.

The blow of losing Mirfin meant a defensive reshuffle and a young central defensive pairing of Jones and Harrison, with Scott Fenwick, the biggest goal threat, played out of position on the right wing.

That decision by Moore backfired, with Fenwick looking uneasy on his first start since an ankle injury, mind Pools enjoyed their best spell after the break before he was subbed.

Pools were nervy, cagey and sloppy in the opening minutes. Luton were rampant.

And they took the lead in only the fifth minute following their fourth corner.

Cameron McGeehan got away from Marlon Harewood at the back post to head home Jake Howell’s corner, it was tame and soft from a Pools perspective.

The worst possible start, compounded 10 minutes later when Howells made it 2-0 from the penalty spot.

Shaun Whalley twisted and turned past flat-footed Austin on the edge of the area before being bundled over by Aaron Tshibola.

A stonewall penalty and another stupid error.

Birthday boy Howells tucked the ball into the right-hand corner of the net, Flinders diving the other way.

Pools were on the ropes.

It could easily have been 4 or 5-0 by half-time.

Flinders saved well from Cullen, while Nicky Featherstone cleared the ball off the line as Luton pressed forward.

Cullen did have the ball in the net but his close range attempt was ruled offside before Flinders twice saved from Cullen and dangerman Elliot Lee.

Moore then had half-time to sort out the mess and the performance improved after the break, mind, it couldn’t have got any worse.

But the game hinged on the next goal.

If Pools had managed to find a way through, the feeling was they’d come away with a point.

Duckworth pushed further forward and caused problems before Franks saw his curled effort deflected wide after 54 minutes.

Jordan Hugill then forced Luton stopper Elliot Justham into a fumbled save as Pools enjoyed their best spell of pressure.

But they couldn’t capitalise and Luton got a third on 71 minutes thanks to another shambolic defensive effort.

From another Howells corner, there was an almighty scramble before Scott Griffiths poked the ball through a crowd of players.

Game over.

Another chance to stake a real claim for safety thrown away.

Ebby Nelson-Addy made his debut from the subs bench.

But the contest was over as Pools enter the final two games still just a point above the bottom two.

The players need to start proving their worth once again otherwise the revival of last month will all have been in vain.