Richard Mennear’s match report: Pools condemned to repeat history

Christian Burgess gets in a header during the game against Rochdale. Photograph by FRANK REID
Christian Burgess gets in a header during the game against Rochdale. Photograph by FRANK REID

HARTLEPOOL United and Rochdale have a rich history as they have played each other more times than any other two teams in the entire Football League list this season.

Sadly, it was a case of history repeating itself at Victoria Park on Saturday as Dale matched their opening day 3-0 win over Pools with another three points and exactly the same scoreline.

How many times these two sides have played each other won’t concern Colin Cooper, of course.

What will, is the successive 3-0 home defeats and the fact Pools have only picked up seven points out of 24 since the 2-0 win over Northampton, form which has seen Pools’ play-off push shudder to a worrying halt.

Cooper will of course point to an unbeaten run in Sky Bet League Two in December but three of those matches were draws and the lack of goals is putting increasing pressure on the defence.

The gaffer will also no doubt be worried about Saturday’s second-half collapse which saw Pools concede three goals, all of which could have been avoided.

Defeat means Cooper’s side are now 16th, just five points above the drop-zone and eight off those elusive play-off positions, which seem destined to be forever out of reach this season.

While it is too early to push the panic button, the team is desperately in need of fresh faces in order to reinvigorate this season while injuries are also creeping in.

Pools also lined up against Dale without Matty Dolan, whose four-month loan spell wasn’t extended despite hope that it would be, but Pools were also without Michael Duckworth, out with a groin injury.

The home side missed his energetic bursts and Cooper said afterwards his injury had been a long time coming, given the amount of work he has put in this season.

Confirmation of his injury at least put an end to the rumours on the day he wasn’t playing because he was on the verge of a switch to Ipswich.

As well as Duckworth’s enforced absence, James Poole also hobbled off after an hour with a tweaked hamstring.

Hopefully both injuries are not too severe but it shows how small the Pools squad is, as it leaves Cooper with Luke James as the only recognised striker that looks remotely like scoring.

Nialle Rodney is often deployed in a wide position and hasn’t looked too much of a threat in front of goal and it is clear to all that 19-year-old James needs some help up front. Desperately.

And Cooper and Co are working hard behind the scenes to bring in new blood, with enquiries in for three players.

Hopefully, Dolan will also return on loan once Middlesbrough have had chance to run the rule over him, although surely it would be better for them to assess him in actual competitive league matches rather than on the training ground.

In the meantime Cooper and Craig Hignett are going to have to cope with what they have at their disposal and sadly against Rochdale in the second-half those players were second best to everything and crumbled to a 3-0 defeat.

The second half was far too comfortable for promotion chasing Rochdale and Pools were poor, very poor.

It could all have been so different though had Jordan Richards’ 15th minute 20-yard free-kick found the top left-hand corner instead of the upright, the rebound falling to Christian Burgess who missed a sitter from just six-yards.

Pools, who had Simon Walton restored to central midfield in place of Dolan, had started the game well, certainly better than the last home game against Bury which saw them 2-0 down after 12 minutes.

Shortly after Richards’ attempt, Rochdale’s Peter Vincenti tested Scott Flinders from distance but the big stopper was equal to it as Pools pushed forward in search of that first goal.

Burgess looked eager to make up for his earlier chance but his header from inside the box was high over the Rink End stand and then in the 27th minute James was put through by Poole but was unable to get a proper connection as Josh Lillis smothered the ball.

The best chance from open play came in the 40th minute, Poole acrobatically forcing Lillis into a smart save over the bar after an excellent cross from Andy Monkhouse found the Pools forward 12-yards out.

But neither side had done enough to take the lead as the teams went in level. The second half was a different story altogether and within four minutes Pools were behind.

An Ian Henderson corner was met by substitute George Donnelly whose scrappy shot was blocked but the ball fell to him and he bundled it

past Flinders to give Dale the lead.

Franks had a golden chance to equalise from 12 yards moments later but his shot was deflected wide and it was all downhill from there.

Poole was subbed on 61 minutes after suffering a tweak to his right hamstring and within two minutes, Rochdale were 2-0 up.

From a free-kick, the ball eventually broke to captain Peter Cavanagh on the edge of the area, whose fierce first-time strike rifled past Flinders from 20 yards.

Jack Compton, returning from a torn calf, came on but the game was already over and despite James again working hard up front, he was becoming increasingly isolated as Pools looked devoid of any real creativity in the final third.

Burgess and Jack Baldwin should have done better with headers but they were the only chances of note as the game wore on.

Goalscoring substitute Donnelly was then subbed himself for Graham Cummins as Keith Hill looked to wrap up the win and the sub made all three points safe with a close range effort in the 90th minute.

Cummins even hit the post in added on time as Pools threatened to completely collapse, reminiscent of an England batting collapse in the recent Ashes series.

Cooper, along with the fans and players, will be hoping Pools can re-group quickly as they look to re-start 2014 for the third time against Fleetwood Town on Saturday.

PLAYER RATINGS:

Scott Flinders: 6. Improved on previous performances but would have been disappointed with second goal, having got his hands to the ball but it was too quick for him. Won’t be happy to have conceded three goals at home again.

Neil Austin: 6. First half especially he was looking to get forward and drew a couple of fouls from their players. Pools’ lack of goals though is putting too much pressure on the defence who have started leaking sloppy goals.

Jordan Richards: 6. First start of the season and managed 90 minutes after a recent double hernia operation. Could have scored with first half free-kick and did okay defensively.

Christian Burgess: 6. Should have scored from the rebound after Richards’ free-kick hit the post and had two other chances with headers. All three Rochdale goals came from set pieces and along with Baldwin, will be disappointed with that.

Jack Baldwin: 6. Not his usual commanding self and will have been disappointed to concede three goals at home again. Looked solid first half but it all went wrong second.

Brad Walker: 7. Much improved from the 3-0 defeat to Bury. Looked composed on the ball in the first-half and was looking to get forward but along with the rest of the team will have been disappointed with the second half.

Simon Walton: 6. First game back after a spell on the bench and did okay. Took a crunching tackle in the first half and played on despite a huge gash on his shin.

Jonathan Franks: 5. Disappointing afternoon for Franks. Unable to beat his man or get in any crosses of note opening 45. Should have scored from chance in second-half and was subbed after 68 minutes.

Andy Monkhouse: 7. MOM. Brighter performance from Monkhouse, who linked up well with Austin and managed to keep his cool for a change after being on the end of a couple of hefty challenges. Didn’t do enough to support James second-half though.

James Poole: 6. Bright in patches but didn’t look himself and was subbed after an hour after tweaking his right hamstring. However, he did almost score with acrobatic effort in first-half but it was well saved.

Luke James: 7. Didn’t score again but did work tirelessly for the cause. Didn’t let the Rochdale defence settle but also didn’t get enough support himself from colleagues.

Subs:

Nialle Rodney: 6. Pushed out wide when he came on for Poole. Didn’t influence the game when he was brought on with half an hour still to play.

Jack Compton: 6. Couple of bright moments but should have done better with crosses into the box when in good positions.

POOLS (4-4-1-1): Flinders, Richards, Baldwin, Burgess, Austin (C), Franks (Compton, 68), Walker, Walton, Monkhouse, Poole (Rodney, 60), James.

Subs Not Used: Rafferty, Collins, Sweeney, Holden, Hawkins.

Booked: Walton.

Rochdale (4-3-3): Lillis, Bennett, Cavanagh (C), Lancashire, Vincenti, Hogan (Bunney, 83), Lund (Donnelly, 21, Cummins, 80), Done, O’Connell, Rose, Henderson.

Subs Not Used: Thomson, Rafferty, Eastham, Allen.

Booked: Cavanagh, Hogan.

Goals: Donnelly (49) Cavanagh (63), Cummins (90).

Referee: Rob Lewis (Shrewsbury).

Att: 3,685 (Rochdale 232).