RICHARD MENNEAR’S MATCH ANALYSIS: Hartlepool Utd’s final hurdle fall at Cheltenham

Cheltenham Town score the only goal of the game in their victory over Hartlepool United. Picture by FRANK REID
Cheltenham Town score the only goal of the game in their victory over Hartlepool United. Picture by FRANK REID

IT isn’t hard to see why Luke James wants to sign for Peterborough United who rose to the summit of League One at the weekend.

They are a free-flowing, entertaining, goalscoring team whereas, sadly, his current Hartlepool United side are currently way short of that.

The unsettled 19-year-old returned to the Pools squad for the match against Mark Yates’ Cheltenham Town side.

There was no start though.

James had to make do with a place on the bench as Colin Cooper’s side looked to build on the previous weeks determined and much-needed win at Wimbledon.

A point would have done nicely against a strong Town side and it was on the cards for much of the game.

That was until on-loan Birmingham City midfielder Koby Arthur popped up with a header in the 90th minute to snatch the win.

It was a sickening blow for Pools, who had defended doggedly for much of the game.

Sadly though, there is only so much pressure a defence can face before eventually conceding.

At Whaddon Road in the second-half, the Pools back-line faced a constant stream of balls into their box and inevitably one was going to result in a goal.

It just so happened to be a header from the smallest man on the pitch - given too much time and space inside the six-yard box.

Defeat was Pools’ fifth out of six matches already this campaign.

Worrying form and if they keep that ratio up there is only one place they are heading.

Thankfully, there is still plenty of time to address the poor form which has crept from last season into this but to do so the squad needs new faces.

It is still lacking in depth and quality and if James does go then Lord knows where the goals will come from.

The win at Wimbledon cannot just be a flash in the pan.

Unfortunately however, this team isn’t used to winning matches on a regular basis - just seven have been won this calendar year. Not good enough.

The ongoing James transfer saga has overshadowed events but there will, at least, be an end to the story by 11pm tonight - one way or the other.

Whether James departs or not, some new players would help.

Fans are realistic enough to admit Pools won’t be dipping into their own pockets before the summer transfer window shuts.

No, instead Cooper will have to rely on free and loan signings and the pressure is on to find players who can put the ball in the back of the net regularly.

If that happened then there would be less pressure on the defenders week in, week out.

Before Saturday, the defence had come in for heavy criticism - and rightly so after some sloppy goals conceded - but it is the lack of creativity and goalscoring threat that is an ongoing concern.

It was no surprise though that Cooper opted to give those players that had won at Wimbledon another chance on Saturday.

Cheltenham, though, dominated the opening spell and Pools couldn’t get enough time on the ball.

Byron Harrison blasted an effort over the bar in the 9th minute, while Matt Richards 25-yard strike moments later was easily gathered by Scott Flinders.

Pools’ first attempt fell to Marlon Harewood but his ambitious over-head kick from 10-yards trickled wide.

Charlie Wyke was the main threat, forcing home keeper Trevor Carson into a smart stop in the 25th minute.

Scott Flinders then saved from Craig Braham-Barrett, who had found space inside the box, before Terry Gornell saw his effort clip the right-hand post before the break.

Overall, it was a half lacking in quality with too many wayward passes from both sides.

Cheltenham cranked up the pressure after the break and for much of the half it was backs to the wall stuff for Pools.

They sat too deep and when they did have the ball possession was lost too easily in the final third.

Trevor Carson has a huge kick in his armoury and he was able to keep the pressure up with punts upfield.

Despite the Town pressure, Wyke should have opened the scoring in the 51st minute.

His header from a wicked Ryan Brobbel cross was straight into the arms of Carson and from then on it was all Cheltenham.

Gornell had two glorious chances to score, first his header was cleared off the line before he lashed a shot high over the stand from just eight-yards out.

The pressure from the home side, playing a fluid 3-5-2 formation with pacy wingers, was beginning to mount and they almost took the lead in the 63rd minute.

Sub John Marquis hit the post with a low, fierce strike at goal.

Three minutes later and referee Sarginson was waving away a penalty appeal.

Flinders came rushing out and, on first glance looked like he had wiped out Cheltenham duo Harrison and Marquis, but the ref said they had collided with each other.

It looked a good decision and there were few protests anyway.

Then, in the 83rd minute came a moment of magic from Flinders.

Omari Sterling-James’ deep cross to the back post was met by the header of Marquis and it looked for all the world a goal.

But Flinders just managed to finger tip the ball onto the crossbar.

It looked like being Pools’ day after all but then came the sickening blow.

In the 90th minute, Arthur found himself in space inside the six-yard box and he nodded the ball past Flinders to snatch the win.

Life can be cruel at times.

Saturday was James’ 100th appearance for Hartlepool United and the travelling fans were hoping he would be able to cap his ton with a goal.

But it wasn’t to be and he didn’t enter the action until Town had scored.

If this was to be his last game for Pools, then it was a great shame to end with a defeat.

He applauded the 120 travelling fans as he made his way off and they responded in the same fashion. It appeared he was saying goodbye.

You don’t always get what you deserve in life - just look at Pools at the weekend - but nobody could begrudge James a big-money move.

If he does sign for Darren Ferguson then everybody would wish him well.

Let’s just hope the future is as bright for Pools as it appears to be for Posh.