Richard Mennear’s match analysis: No Ritch pickings this time for Pools

Luke James in action against Accrington Stanley. Photograph by FRANK REID
Luke James in action against Accrington Stanley. Photograph by FRANK REID

SEVEN years ago Ritchie Humphreys scored a sensational stoppage time winner at Accrington to launch a 23-match unbeaten run resulting in promotion for Hartlepool United.

Fast forward and once again Pools find themselves in the bottom tier of English football playing at Accrington’s quaint ground - and how they could have done with a Humphrey’s-inspired strike in last night’s goalless draw to kick-start their stuttering bid to reach the top seven.

HEAD BOY: Christian Burgess in action against Accrington Stanley. Picture by FRANK REID

HEAD BOY: Christian Burgess in action against Accrington Stanley. Picture by FRANK REID

For what seems like an age Colin Cooper’s side have been five points outside the play-off spots.

In reality the gap has been down to five points for just 10 days, following the 3-0 home win over Torquay United which came before back-to-back away games at strugglers Wycombe Wanderers and Accrington.

Players and fans alike were targeting between four to six points from the two matches - but after a tough week on the road they have just one point to show for their efforts.

Two missed opportunities to close the gap on York City, Plymouth Argyle and Southend United above them.

Bradley Walker in action against Accrington Stanley. Photograph by FRANK REID

Bradley Walker in action against Accrington Stanley. Photograph by FRANK REID

Indeed, the Sky Bet League Two table is so tight that only five points separate 10th-placed Pools and fourth-bottom Accrington, managed by former Premier League striker James Beattie.

Cooper was adamant last night that he wasn’t too disappointed and that the point at least stopped the rot in terms of away defeats.

But he will know that if his side are to sneak into contention this season then they need to be beating the likes of Accrington Stanley, with all due respect to the club famous for not being famous.

One thing Cooper can be pleased with though is the effort, commitment and work rate that his side put into securing the point against Beattie’s side.

It is a reflection on the lack of quality in the final third - for both teams - that the star performers were in the respective defences.

Sam Collins and Christian Burgess for Pools and Tom Aldred and Dean Winnard for the home side all excelled.

In the end the draw was a fair result because while Accrington had the lions share of possession in the second-half, in particular, they couldn’t breach the Pools defence.

Cooper’s side almost snatched it late on but substitutes Marlon Harewood and James Poole failed to make the most of chances inside the box, more composure and quality on the ball was needed.

Cooper made one change from the Wycombe defeat, Harewood dropped in favour of Jonathan Franks with the former Middlesbrough forward playing up front alongside Luke James.

Cooper also opted for a flat midfield four, with on-loan Manchester United forward Jack Barmby on the right and Andy Monkhouse wide left at the Storefirst.com Stadium.

The home side were full of confidence after their 3-1 weekend win over table-topping Chesterfield, not that you could tell by the home supporters mind. The players walked out to near silence, with applause from the travelling 175 Pools fans, but very little from the 1,000 home support.

Accrington were quick out of the blocks though, storming up field to win a corner after just 30 seconds but James Gray failed to take advantage of the resulting set piece.

Pools hit back, through Simon Walton but he shot over the bar twice from the edge of the area when in good positions.

It was fast-paced in the opening stages but while there was plenty of huff and puff there was little in the way of quality and goalscoring chances.

Pools’ best chance came from a Darren Holden long throw, headed on by Monkhouse towards Franks but his header was tame and into the hands of keeper Marcus Bettinelli.

Referee David Coote was quick to flash his yellow cards to Cooper’s men, first to Barmby for a silly foul and then Brad Walker, who tripped Gray as he tore down on goal.

Will Hatfield then forced a close-range save from Scott Flinders, with the ball spinning wide for a corner, as the home side pushed on.

Franks was again at the heart of the action moments later, but his shot was deflected wide by Barmby just before the half hour mark.

Captain Collins then entered the book, harshly, for an alleged foul on Gray, when in reality he was merely standing his ground, while Walton saw his third effort of the half sail over the bar, again from 20-yards, as the half came to a close.

Similar to Wycombe, Pools again started the second-half slowly, inviting pressure from the home side.

Flinders’ woodwork was rattled in the 55th minute courtesy of a Laurence Wilson cross-cum-shot. Wilson was enjoying far too much time and space down the left-flank, with Barmby needing to do more to keep tabs on him.

In a rare opportunity, Burgess almost nodded Pools in front but didn’t connect well enough with a Walton free-kick before Hatfield then clipped a shot just wide of Flinder’s right hand post in the 65th minute, as Beattie’s side once again cranked up the pressure.

Five minutes later and Adam Buxton screwed a shot from distance just wide, with Pools struggling to get out of their half and on the ball.

Flinders had to save smartly from Josh Windass, who had turned well in the box, while up the other end James and Franks were struggling off scraps.

Their best chance came in the 76th minute - James wriggling free down the left wing before cutting the ball back across to the diving head of Monkhouse but his effort from six-yards was saved easily enough by Bettinelli.

Cooper eventually turned to his subs bench, with James Poole, Antony Sweeney and Marlon Harewood all coming on in the final 10 minutes.

And they could have sneaked the victory in the final minute.

Sadly Poole slipped inside the area when in sight of goal and then Harewood’s follow-up shot was well blocked.

And with that block went any remaining hope of taking all three points home.

What Cooper would have given for a strike like the one Humphreys mustered up back on that wet night in November 2006.

They still have time on their side, and it would be wrong to write them off just yet, but with only 10 matches left to play time is quickly running out.

Next up is Bristol Rovers at The Vic this Saturday.

Back on the comforts of home soil, Cooper will be hoping his side can regain their attacking prowess to go with the dogged defending on show in Lancashire.

Accrington (4-4-2): Bettinelli, Joyce (C), Aldred, Winnard (Atkinson, 90), Webber (Naismith, 70), Hatfield, Molyneux, Gray (Odejayi, 81) Wilson, Windass, Buxton.

Subs Not Used: Dawber, Clark, Mingoia, Bowerman.

Booked: Naismith.

Pools (4-4-2): Flinders, Richards, Collins(C), Burgess, Holden, Walton, Walker, Monkhouse, Barmby (Sweeney, 86), James (Harewood, 88), Franks (Poole, 81).

Subs Not Used: Rafferty (gk), Hawkins, Compton, Rodney.

Booking: Barmby, Walker, Collins.

Referee: David Coote (Nottinghamshire)

Attendance: 1,196 (Pools 175)

PLAYER RATINGS:

Scott Flinders: 7. Busy night for Flinders, made a lot of routine saves and another clean sheet for the big stopper.

Jordan Richards: 7. Can be pleased with his night’s work. Always vocal, always committed and defensively sound.

Sam Collins: 7. The captain bounced back well from the disappointment of the Wycombe Wanderer’s defeat with a commanding display. Booked but it was never a booking.

Christian Burgess: 8. MOM. Stand-out player for Pools. The ball seemed to stick to his feet and didn’t miss a header all game.

Darren Holden: 7. Similar to Richards. A solid display from the young left-back.

Simon Walton: 6. Good first-half defensively but had three shots high over the bar when in good positions on edge of the area.

Brad Walker: 6. Steady performance from the 17-year-old. Played central midfield alongside Walton, rather than being pushed further wide and looked more comfortable.

Andy Monkhouse: 6. Industrious from Monkhouse, plenty of effort. A workmanlike performance.

Jack Barmby: 6 Had a good first-half linking up with Richards but tailed off second half and should have come off earlier. Booked again.

Luke James: 6. Not his night. Put in a shift but the striker’s didn’t get much service from the midfielders. Subbed late on.

Jonathan Franks: 6. Restored to the starting line-up and while he worked hard he didn’t get much service alongside James. Subbed.

Subs:

James Poole: 6. Late substitute and didn’t have great deal of time to have influence on game. Should have made better contact with late shot.

Marlon Harewood: N/A

Antony Sweeney: N/A

TERRACE TWEETS;

Christopher Forsyth @chrisforsyth007

@HPoolMail opportunity missed again need to get 3 points against Bristol on Saturday. Come on lads get us to wembley.

Peter Cordiner @PeterTwin90

@HPoolMail @FrankRHMail No idea why we wait soo long to make a sub, it was clear after 50mins that Barmby was struggling #toolittletoolate

Tom Reeves @tomreeves88

@HPoolMail an away point is better than none at all #terracetweets #upthepools