Hartlepool make solid start with win at Billingham Town
Hartlepool United will undergo sterner tests over the coming weeks and months.
But a 4-0 victory at non-league neighbours Billingham Town represents a good start to their pre-season programme.
It was neither a landslide nor a struggle and, to that extent, both parties could emerge with smiles of satisfaction.
Pools could have had a ton more goals but who is complaining?
The whole idea of pre-season is to build fitness for when the real thing starts and the sharpness in and around goal will come in good time.
Craig Hignett took 20 first-team players and two trialists, sending out two separate XIs in each half at the Ebac Northern League Second Division outfit.
As planned, all the players got 45 minutes each, with two exceptions. Josh Laurent got 30, having come off a tweak on the half-hour, with his replacement, Jake Orrell, enjoying an hour on the bowling green-like surface at Bedford Terrace.
There is not much of Orrell, but the teenager was one of the bright spots for Pools – and there were plenty of them.
The teenager, signed from Chesterfield but educated in his younger years at the Sunderland Academy, was bright and breezy.
Playing to the right of the striker, he liked getting on the ball and was not scared to go looking for it and may well be a player who comes into the reckoning for the season.
Lewis Alessandra, another player to come from League One, Rochdale in his case, was another to catch the eye as he too showed his appetite to get on the ball, including coming deep.
He showed his goal instinct too by getting the ball rolling in the first period.
Padraig Amond, who was part of the second half line-up scored a similar goal and was unfortunate not to end with a hat-trick.
New midfielder Nicky Deverdics made a steady start as the most advanced of the central men and he too could have found the net.
The final member of new boy brigade, Toto Nsalia, strolled through his first excursion, showing great athleticism on the few occasions he was required to.
Pools dominated from the outset. Rhys Oates found the overflow carpark a couple of times while Paynter saw a long-range shot go inches wide.
But Pools did find the target with three goals in the space of eight minutes.
Alessandra got the first on 18 minutes after a bit of pinball in the home box, the former Plymouth forward stroking the ball in with his right foot.
Paynter headed in the next four minutes later, getting on the end of a Carl Magnay cross from the right following some good Pools football.
Another Magnay delivery from the right side brought the third goal in the 25th minute as left-back Mark Dixon put it past his keeper for an OG.
Town showed plenty of character – at three goals down inside 25 minutes it would have been understandable had it become a cricket score.
But Billingham boss Barry Oliver can take a lot of encouragement. They saw little of the ball as Pools dominated possession, but there was plenty of effort.
There were a couple of promising moments, Jack Connor showing some nice footwoork in the midfield and fellow midfielder Stuart Bath shooting over Trevor Carson’s bar. However, the rest of the first half was about keeping Pools out.
They did just that as Orrell shot over the bar, Paynter had a shot saved after being played through by Nicky Featherstone and Lewis Hawkins had a free-kick tipped over.
It was all change in terms of personnel after the break but the pattern of the game continued with Pools bossing it without turning pressure into goals. Brad Walker, Amond and Orrell went over the bar, while some desperate defending produced several blocks and last-ditch tackles.
But a fourth goal arrived on the hour. Deverdics looked set to score as he danced his way through but he was denied, with Amond putting in the loose ball from a few yards.
Amond was denied superbly by second-half Town keeper Liam Judson after some neat skill by Michael Woods, though the flag went up anyway for offside.
The Hartlepool lad between the home sticks was at it again six minutes from time as he kept an Amond shot out of his top-left corner before diving to his left to keep out a shot from the livewire Nathan Thomas.
There were other Poolies in the Town ranks who deserve a shout-out for their displays, striker Elliott Beddow, left-sider Luke Hogan and right-back Scott Kenny.
Town can take credit for their afternoon’s exertions while Pools can gain satisfaction from a first job well done.
Pools first half: Carson, Magnay, Bates, Nsiala, Gilbey, Featherstone, Laurent (Orrell 30), Hawkins, Alessandra, Paynter, Oates.
Pools second Half: Bartlett, Richards, May, Jones, Carroll, Walker, Woods, Deverdics, Orrell, Amond, Thomas.
Goals: Alessandra 18, Paynter 22, Mark Dixon Og 25, Amond 60