Richard Mennear’s analysis: Hartlepool United’s season dogged by inconsistency

Rakish Bingham
Rakish Bingham

Inconsistency has dogged Hartlepool United’s season.

And the past three games have perfectly summed up the 2015-16 campaign so far, with a win, a draw and a sorry defeat.

Scott Harrison is sent off for Hartlepool United

Scott Harrison is sent off for Hartlepool United

It left Ronnie Moore tearing his hair out at the end of what was supposed to be a season changing week.

Back in August Pools had flown out of the League Two traps.

Four consecutive wins in all competitions raised expectation levels after a major summer of change, on and off the pitch.

But since those heady days of early August, Pools fans have been hit with a heavy dose of realism.

The bright start ruined by inconsistency both in terms of results and team selection due to injuries, suspensions and poor form.

Richard Mennear

The bright start ruined by inconsistency both in terms of results and team selection due to injuries, suspensions and poor form.

This past week was supposed to be the turning point.

Pools were playing three sides below them, first up Dagenham & Redbridge away saw Pools pick up three points. A great start.

But they then threw points away at home to Barnet, pegged back to 1-1 when they should have been out of sight before Saturday’s dismal defeat to Crawley Town.

Simon Walton scores for Crawley Town

Simon Walton scores for Crawley Town

Defeat saw Pools drop to 19th in League Two, with a third of the season gone already.

Fifteen games have already passed, with Pools already eight points adrift of the play-off places, thankfully the cushion to the bottom two is also eight points.

Mind, many more performances like the one against Crawley and that gap will soon be reduced.

Pools were dreadful. And Crawley weren’t much better. The atmosphere was flat off the pitch, reflecting the performance on it.

Trevor Carson was in good form and kept Moore’s side in the contest as the 10 outfield players in front of him produced one of the most lacklustre and lethargic displays you’re likely to witness.

Rhys Oates aside, the rest of the side were poor.

Passes going astray, standing off the Crawley players, miss-kicks, poor set piece routines, shots from distance screwed well wide.

It was a catalogue of errors and if the Crawley frontline had remembered to pack their goalscoring boots then they would have been out of sight at the break.

As it was, Carson kept Pools afloat before the inevitable half-time boos.

Carson had twice denied Rhys Murphy and Jimmy Smith, while Shamir Fenelon and Josh Yorwerth shot narrowly wide. The best Pools could muster was a long-range Oates attempt and two headers from captain Billy Paynter.

It was no surprise to see Moore drag Brad Walker and Jake Carroll off, the only surprise was he only made two changes.

Walker was at his most ineffective best.

The 19-year-old endured a tough afternoon and failed to impose himself on the game. His central midfield partner Nicky Featherstone was no better.

Fans were groaning before kick-off about the lack of pace, bite and creativity in central midfield. And so it proved.

Moore will spend the week reflecting on his team selection.

Michael Woods started on the bench while Carl Magnay – still serving his ban was on co-commentary duties for the club website.

How Pools could have done with his added aggression and composure.

Magnay has been a huge loss and his return can’t come quick enough. The midfield’s performance was so poor it has left Moore searching for further fresh blood.

For all the summer additions that is one area of the pitch that wasn’t sufficiently strengthened.

As well as Walker and Carroll’s departure, there was also a new linesman for the second half following Anthony Tankard’s withdrawal with a pulled calf.

Hartlepool fan Mark Gale answered the tannoy announcer’s calls for a qualified referee to make themselves known, with Gale taking up the role of fourth official.

Pools fans were left wishing it had been referee Mark Heywood that had left the field of play.

For the course of the game turned as a result of Heywood awarding a 66th minute penalty to Crawley after deeming Scott Harrison had handled on the line.

It looked an awful decision and replays showed the ball hit Harrison on the shoulder as he turned away from the ball, not towards it, the shot having been fired in from close range.

Harrison was distraught. Up stepped ex-Pools midfielder and pantomime villain Simon Walton to put the visitors 1-0 up.

He hadn’t controlled the game in the same way he did for Stevenage last season but he still had the better of Featherstone & Co.

It was a hammer-blow to Pools, who had shown far more intent and creativity since the half-time introduction of Michael Woods and Jason Banton.

Moore – who had earlier subbed Dan Jones due to a cut above his eye – was furious with his defence for allowing Murphy the time and space to have the shot at goal in the first place.

Featherstone dropped into right-back, with Luke Hendrie partnering Magnus Okuonghae in the centre.

Woods should have equalised soon after, when he waltzed through the Crawley defence before shooting straight at Darryl Flahavan.

It proved a big miss as it was soon 2-0.

Murphy turning in a pass from Gwion Edwards to double the lead before Paynter headed in a Pools consolation.

Rakish Bingham failed to take advantage of a poor back pass in the closing stages. The long wait for another home win continues.

Eight games and counting.

If Pools are to avoid another season of struggle, they need to find a way of winning in front of their home fans.

And fast.