Richard Mennear’s match analysis: Hartlepool’s comeback against Carlisle typifies barmy season

Ronnie Moore
Ronnie Moore

YOU couldn’t have scripted a more perfect, barmy or dramatic ending to what has been an unforgettable season for Hartlepool United.

From the moment news reached the ground the team bus had broken down en-route, to the moment Ronnie Moore emerged from the tunnel before kick-off wearing a rasta wig.

Michael Duckworth in action against Carlisle United. Picture by FRANK REID

Michael Duckworth in action against Carlisle United. Picture by FRANK REID

This dead rubber had it all.

From the Bob Marley-inspired Pools fans among the 2,200 travelling supporters, to an impressive comeback from being 3-0 down at half-time to salvage a draw.

This season finale had it all.

Both Carlisle United and Pools were safe from relegation going into the match at Brunton Park, and who’d have thought that at the turn of the year when both were scrapping for their lives.

Michael Duckworth in action against Carlisle United. Picture by FRANK REID

Michael Duckworth in action against Carlisle United. Picture by FRANK REID

But after the most turbulent season in recent memory, it was no surprise the final game of the 2014-15 season had a few more twists and turns.

The game had everything and nicely summed up Pools’ entire campaign in 90 minutes.

Dead and buried at the half-way stage, with little hope and even less quality on show.

To an awe inspiring second-half full of character, grit, determination and moments of pure class.

Hartlepool United fans dressed in reggae gear at the final game of the season away to Carlisle United. Picture by FRANK REID

Hartlepool United fans dressed in reggae gear at the final game of the season away to Carlisle United. Picture by FRANK REID

The result, of course, didn’t matter.

Pools could only finish third bottom whatever happened and, while no club should be celebrating finishing 22nd in Sky Bet League Two, this felt different.

There was a promotion-party feel at full-time, celebrations that had spilled over from last weekend when the Great Escape was achieved.

As Moore has rightly said, the players that survive this week’s cull need to take inspiration from that and push to compete at the right end of the table next campaign.

Michael Duckworth celebrates his goal with a somersault against Carlisle United. Picture by FRANK REID

Michael Duckworth celebrates his goal with a somersault against Carlisle United. Picture by FRANK REID

So, with the Pools bus finally in the Carlisle car park, the players had less than half an hour to get changed and warm-up.

Then came the bizarre sight of Moore running onto the field pre-match – complete with rasta wig – to clap the travelling away supporters.

It isn’t often you see a manager doing that, but it just showed the strength of feeling between Moore and the supporters and his passion for the club.

Sadly, Moore’s pre-match appearance was the highlight of the next hour as Pools produced one of the worst halves of football this season, and that’s saying something after this campaign.

Moore had given his players four days off after the Exeter City win and too many of them looked to be already on the beach in the opening 45 minutes.

Initially, Pools looked comfortable but then it all started to quickly unravel.

Pools had started with a 3-5-2 system with a back three of Scott Harrison, Matthew Bates and Neil Austin but they never settled.

Carlisle soon began to flex their muscles, with Scott Flinders palming over a Jason Kennedy header and blocking well from a deflected-Charlie Wyke effort.

Pools, in their dazzling new bright yellow away kit, should have actually taken the lead through Jordan Hugill, but he skewed his header from six yards wide.

And the visitors were made to pay. In brutal fashion.

Carlisle took the lead after 25 minutes, their impressive captain Kyle Dempsey curling an effort past the Pools stopper from 25-yards.

Flinders was unsighted as Dempsey was allowed too much time to take advantage.

It soon got worse six minutes later, as Carlisle scored twice in two minutes thanks to some shambolic defending.

Brad Potts whipped in a free-kick to the back post where Steven Rigg volleyed it past Flinders before Kennedy made it 3-0 after heading in from close range.

All three goals were avoidable and Pools looked dead and buried – not the end of season finale the buoyant Pools supporters were hoping for.

Punch-drunk Pools needed a kick up the backside and it came courtesy of another half-time Ronnie Rocket.

On came Marlon Harewood for Scott Fenwick, taken off with a sore knee, and his arrival transformed Pools.

The former Premier League striker showing why he was brought to the club in the first place, sadly too few performances have been as effective as this one.

Harewood was almost unplayable, ex-Pools youth Nathan Buddle, comfortable in the first half, was rattled.

The warning sign came when Harewood played in Hugill, whose 20-yard effort was well saved by the flying Mark Gillespie.

Ebby Nelson-Addy was replaced with Middlesbrough-loanee Jordan Jones and the breakthrough finally came in the 63rd minute.

Harewood cut the ball back to Aaron Tshibola but his weak shot was saved, the ball falling to Hugill who prodded home from close range.

A lifeline or a consolation?

It sparked new life into Pools and within a minute it was 3-2.

This time Duckworth burst forward, exchanged passes with Harewood before rifling a 25-yard effort into the top corner to snatch the goal of the season competition in the final game.

Carlisle were still threatening though and Pools had Neil Austin to thank for keeping them in the contest.

Twice he made crucial interventions at the back post before an acrobatic clearance in the 84th minute off the line.

It proved key, as Pools went on to equalise two minutes later.

Tshibola and Harewood combined well before the Reading loanee produced a perfect low cross to the back post where Hugill was hunting.

There was bedlam on the terraces, Pools had pulled it back.

They could have won it late on too.

Franks failed to cross when in a great position before Matthew Bates fired a 45-yard volley at goal which had Gillespie scrambling.

A little less drama, and more points, would be welcome next campaign.