Richard Mennear’s match analysis: Hartlepool United end season with a whimper

TRICKERY: Jonathan Franks in action against Exeter City. Picture by FRANK REID

TRICKERY: Jonathan Franks in action against Exeter City. Picture by FRANK REID

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DESIRE.

At half-time, with Pools trailing 2-0 to Exeter City, Colin Cooper walked into the Hartlepool United dressing room and wrote that word on the notice board.

Hartlepool United players at the end of the final league game of the season against Exeter City. Picture by FRANK REID

Hartlepool United players at the end of the final league game of the season against Exeter City. Picture by FRANK REID

He was calling, almost pleading, with his first-team to show some desire before sending them back out onto the pitch a good five minutes before the start of the second-half.

Sadly for the Pools gaffer and the 4,700-strong crowd inside Victoria Park, the players put in a similar performance to the one they’d had to endure in the previous 45 minutes.

One lacking any real passion, drive, pace, energy or levels of enthusiasm.

The despondent manager said so himself afterwards and he had a warning for the players – he won’t settle for mediocrity.

SUPERSUB: James Poole in action against Exeter City. Picture by FRANK REID

SUPERSUB: James Poole in action against Exeter City. Picture by FRANK REID

And anyone not pulling their weight is no longer welcome.

Cooper was in no mood to pull any punches and was honest and forthright in his assessment of the performance he had just witnessed.

It wasn’t good enough.

Simple as that and it meant Pools – who had been pushing for the play-offs not that long ago – finished 19th in Sky Bet League Two, just three points in the end above second bottom Bristol Rovers.

James Poole in action against Exeter City. Picture by FRANK REID

James Poole in action against Exeter City. Picture by FRANK REID

How Pools managed to freefall so badly in the closing stages of the season to become realistic relegation candidates will be a real cause for concern for the manager and he spoke afterwards of needing to change the mentality at the club.

New signings will help on that front and the much anticipated retained list is expected to be announced early this week – with several names including Andy Monkhouse and Simon Walton rumoured to be heading for the exit door.

We will have to wait and see on that front but Cooper was adamant he wouldn’t be settling for second best when the players return for pre-season training on July 1.

Cooper isn’t under any illusions as to the re-building job facing him this summer.

Connor Smith in action against Exeter City. Picture by FRANK REID

Connor Smith in action against Exeter City. Picture by FRANK REID

But if he was, then Saturday’s inept performance will have brought it sharply into focus.

For a poor Pools side lacked creativity, allowed Exeter time and space and at times even struggled to pass the ball to each other.

This was not the way the club’s hierarchy wanted to end the season or to promote the new season ticket offer as the fans cannot have been impressed with what was served up.

Cooper has a core group of excellent young players at his disposal, including Luke James, Brad Walker and Michael Duckworth.

If he can keep hold of them and add some experienced fresh blood into the team then Pools have a good chance of a much higher finish.

But consistency is key and too many players in the current team do not perform to the same high standards week after week.

Hartlepool United players at the end of the game against Exeter City. Picture by FRANK REID

Hartlepool United players at the end of the game against Exeter City. Picture by FRANK REID

That has led to this season being a real mixed bag – some highs, some lows but ultimately it ended in disappointment and frustration.

Hopefully, the remaining players will use that frustration and come back raring to launch a fresh assault on League Two come August.

For if not, then they will face Cooper’s wrath.

The gaffer made two changes from the team that drew 1-1 away to Plymouth Argyle with James Poole and Jack Compton returning.

Jack Barmby, out with an ear infection, and Andy Monkhouse, were the two players to miss out.

The £5 ticket initiative again worked, with almost 5,000 fans inside The Vic but they wouldn’t have been impressed with the football on show from the home side.

Both sides only managed half chances in the opening 20 minutes, with Exeter’s Craig Woodman guilty of missing the best effort – wildly firing high over the bar after finding himself free inside the box.

But it didn’t matter as they took the lead moments later.

Pools’ Young Player of the Year Brad Walker was tackled on the half-way line in the 25th minute and Jimmy Keohane broke free before curling a right-footed shot over Scott Flinders and in off the crossbar.

It was a lovely finish but all too easy for Tisdale’s men.

In the 32nd minute Pools were awarded a corner and there was a brief stoppage after Marlon Harewood appeared to complain to the referee, pointing to the away end.

It was unclear what exactly the complaint was and Cooper said afterwards he hadn’t been made aware by the referee about the nature of it.

But the game was soon underway again and from that corner Exeter broke free and almost doubled their lead, the dangerous Keohane’s scuffed shot was well saved by Flinders before Duckworth cleared the ball.

A riled up Harewood and Walker both had ambitious efforts on goal – with the 18-year-old’s volley ending up as a throw in for the away side.

Exeter made them pay for their sloppiness when David Wheeler scored in the 44th minute – taking down a long ball past the onrushing Flinders before rolling it into the net.

It was a hammerblow but in a frantic end to the half Pools had the opportunity to halve the deficit.

Poole was bundled over by Jordan Tillson in the box but Compton saw his effort from the spot well saved by Christy Pym, who dived to his left.

Harewood seemed to be the only player to respond to Cooper’s half-time calls, charging round the field in the second half.

Sadly, chances were few and far between.

Matt Grimes’ whipped in free-kick for Exeter somehow managed to evade all bodies in the box and bounce clear, while Compton tried his luck from distance in the 70th minute.

You wouldn’t normally call it a chance as it flashed well wide but at least it was an attempt. Generally, though, Pools looked devoid of ideas and ready for their summer holidays.

They should have had a second penalty in the 74th minute, Harewood was pulled back by Jordan Moore-Taylor but referee Darren Deadman waved it away.

Walker then chanced his arm from 20-yards but his effort was deflected over the bar.

There was one positive, a League and Pools debut for 17-year-old substitute Connor Smith who looked bright and energetic when he slotted into midfield.

The final attempt on goal came from captain Sam Collins whose header in stoppage time was wide of the right-hand post.

And with that the referee thankfully brought proceedings to a close.

All that was left was the lap of appreciation – you couldn’t call it a lap of honour after this season.

A lot, then, for Cooper & Co to ponder over the coming days, weeks and months as they attempt to revive the fortunes of Hartlepool United next season.

Pools (4-4-2): Flinders, Duckworth, Collins (C), Harrison, Holden, Oliver (Hawkins, 80), Walker, Compton, Poole, Franks (Smith 80), Harewood.

Subs: Rafferty, Rowbotham, Richards, Jones, James.

Exeter (4-4-1-1): Pym, Woodman, Bennett (C), Sercombe (Jay, HT), Moore-Taylor, Dawson (Gosling, 76), Keohane, Tillson, Grimes, Wheeler, Gill (Watkins, 76).

Subs: Krysiak, Butterfield, Baldwin, Nichols.

Referee: Darren Deadman (Cambridgeshire)

Attendance: 4,710 (184 Exeter City)

Player Ratings:

Scott Flinders: 6. Couldn’t really do a great deal about either goal. Made one good save in the first half.

Michael Duckworth: 5. Disappointing afternoon for the full-back. Didn’t get forward as often as would normally and didn’t link up well with Brad Walker down the right.

Sam Collins: 6. Alongside Harrison defended well at times and made a couple of crunching tackles. Has done enough in recent months to earn new contract.

Scott Harrison: 6. MOM. Was brave and won several headers. Best of a bad bunch.

Darren Holden: 5. Had plenty of space and got in some dangerous positions but him and Jack Compton weren’t on the same wavelength. Too many passes went astray.

Connor Oliver: 5. Poor game in the holding position. Wasteful in possession and skied one free-kick straight out for throw in. Was later substituted.

Brad Walker: 5. Tackled on the half-way line in build-up to their first goal. Young Player of the Year didn’t do enough, disappointing end to a great debut season for him.

Jack Compton: 5. Looked dangerous at times in the first-half but should have done better with crossing in good positions. Missed a penalty as well.

James Poole: 5. Showed flashes of what he could do. Too inconsistent though. Did win the penalty which Compton then failed to convert.

Jonathan Franks: 5. Worked hard and made a couple of good runs but didn’t do enough to impact the game.

Marlon Harewood: 6. Looked riled up and put a shift in but didn’t trouble the Exeter goalkeeper.

Subs:

Lewis Hawkins: 6. Came on too late to influence the game.

Connor Smith: 6. Debut for the 17-year-old, looked bright and willing but on too late to influence game.

Your Terrace Tweets:

Steven Liddell ‏@slidds

@RMennearHMail terrible performance, awful season overall. Investment in squad badly needed, see what next season brings #terracetweets

Lord Smythe ‏@LordSmythe

@RMennearHMail So much promise/potential but successfully managed to transform play-off hopes to relegation candidates

Neil Pearson ‏@hpoolneil

#terracetweets Awful today, just lost about 1,000 off the gate, players looked lost...only harrison played well#clearoutneeded

Mark Carroll ‏@MARKCARROLL3

@RMennearHMail Cooper says He wont accept mediocrity well I hope that’s reflected In his retained list as this was a desperate performance

Brad Walker in action against Exeter City. Picture by FRANK REID

Brad Walker in action against Exeter City. Picture by FRANK REID