Analysis: Hartlepool United 0 Wycombe Wanderers 2, it just wasn't Pools day
A not-so-good-day at the office.
That is probably the best way to describe Hartlepool United’s return to the Northern Gas & Power Stadium.
The mood had been buoyant after Pools had removed the monkey off their backs.
No offence H’Angus, this reporter is referring to the five-and-a-month away monkey, that long, boring and painful wait for a victory on their travels.
Everyone turned up at the Vic to see Pools carry on from where they left off against Cambridge and claim the scalp of another promotion wannabe.
Alas, Wycombe Wanderers either never received their copy of the script, or instead tore it up.
Tore it up probably, given they proved canny, street-wise operators who knew what they were doing in all aspects of he game.
Wanderers were very adept, cynical almost, at their ability to break the game up, but that’s the sign of a side with “nous” as Dave Jones referred to it as.
However, you have to give the Chairboys top marks because they could play too,
They possessed a dangerous front three, with the colossal figure of Adebayo Akinfenwa being flanked by Dayle Southwell and Myles Weston.
Wycombe were that good they could afford to remove their main man as early as 55 minutes and still win with, relative, comfort.
They could keep the ball away from their goal too.
Their two central defenders were huge and they had a good conductor in midfield, even if Sam Saunders seems to go to the same hairdresser as his gaffer.
Frustrating as though Saturday’s game proved for players and fans alike, it was one of those matches where you just had to concede that the better team had won.
Pools had just one effort on target, keeper Jamal Blackman getting down well to keep out a Scott Harrison header.
All the other goalbound shots came from the side in all white – Pools keeper Joe Fryer dealing with all but two of them, Akinfenwa and sub Paris Cowan-Hall scoring the goals which condemned boss Dave Jones to his first defeat on home soil.
It wasn’t that Pools performed badly – they just could not hit the heights they did in the second half against Crewe and Exeter in the previous two fixtures at the Vic, where they scored stunning goal after stunning goal.
There was no lack of application or ambition for Pools – on more than one occasion either Lewis Alessandra or Nathan Thomas would lead an attack but there was never any end-product, unlike the last two home games when Pools have produced two brilliant wins.
Pools were not helped by the absence of Rhys Oates, who was absent with a thigh problem. Too often in the first half, the hosts put up high balls into the Wanderers half where Padraig Amond received no change from the giant defenders.
Alessandra, skilful and positive, did have a couple of attempts, the first blocked and the second over the top.
He spearheaded a swift, exciting 22nd-minute counter-attack which ended with Nathan Thomas taking a tumble just inside the box. But referee Dave Webb attracted the ire of Thomas and the majority in the 3,356 crowd by dismissing the appeals.
And it got worse for Pools just two minutes later when the Chairboys went in front with a superbly-worked and coolly-taken goal.
Akinfenwa exchanged passes first with Weston and then Southwell to run towards goal.
Those who tease the veteran striker as not being built for speed were not laughing as he strolled into the box and slotted past Fryer from 10 yards with his left foot.
Pools tried to respond with Thomas leaving Michael Harriman for dead and delivering a delicious cross which Blackman flapped away.
Thomas fired over the bar with right footer from 20 yards before Pools won a corner after some neat inter-play. From here, Walker headed the ball into the six-yard box, where Wycombe could not clear.
In the resulting scramble, the ball struck the hand of that-man Akinfenwa, but Mr Webb again rejected the appeals. Lady Luck, who has appeared in recent matches for Pools, must have been sat with Oates and fellow injury victim, Liam Donnelly in the Cyril Knowles Stand.
After the break, Alessandra saw a shot go just wide, but all the shots were coming from Wycombe, Fryer making superb diving saves from Southwell (twice) and Saunders while Luke O’Nien flashed a 56th-minute drive just wide.
Pools’ day seemed to be summed by the 68th minute opening which went begging.
Defender Max Muller’s misdirected header sent Alessandra racing towards the box, but when he tried to tee up Amond, the supporting Woods seemed to hinder the top scorer and the chance was lost.
Harrison’s 73rd-minute header from Alessandra’s corner did bring a diving stop by Blackman and from the resulting corner, Walker’s header landed on roof of away net.
But that was as good as it got and the final word belong to Wycombe and Cowan-Hall, who showed good feet and speed to escape Nicky Deverdics. The sub finished well but his day would not have a happy ending.
He got involved in an unseemly tangle with Harrison after trying to beat the defender down the right. Once the handbags were put down, Mr Webb showed yellow cards to the pair and given Cowan-Hall had been booked 10 minutes earlier for a handball, he was on his way.
It was probably the only thing which went Pools’ way.