Hartlepool United analysis: Can Pools muscle in on the National League promotion race?

The promotion race - are Hartlepool United in it, or out of it?

Tuesday, 1st January 2019, 4:43 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th January 2019, 2:36 am
Hartlepool United's players celebrate Paddy McLaughlin's winning goal against Gateshead.
Hartlepool United's players celebrate Paddy McLaughlin's winning goal against Gateshead.

I suppose it’s a one of those glass half full, glass half empty kind of questions.

While some fans have been looking over their shoulders in recent weeks, the playing staff at Pools have never lost faith they can mix it with those at the top end of the National League.

And on this kind of performance, who would doubt them? Pools beat one of their promotion play off rivals and did so at a relative canter.

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Pools have definitely lost their way in recent months, after a really solid start to the campaign seemed to point to a promotion push. But things steadily seem to be improving and while six days previous there was little in the way of positives to take from the show at the International Stadium, this was chalk and cheese.

Liam Noble’s penalty put Pools in front before a Myles Anderson own goal levelled things up. McLaughlin then netted a second half winner for Money’s men who claimed a 2-1 victory.

With that result Pools closed the gap to seventh-placed Heed to 10 points and climbed one place to 13th in the fifth tier table.

Money’s hand was forced somewhat on the selection front with Harvey Rodgers ruled out through injury.

As a result he moved Carl Magnay to his more familiar central defensive role, with Nicky Featherstone restored to the starting XI.

Having been awarded two penalties in the final three minutes of play at the International Stadium, Pools were again given the chance to score from 12 yards just seven minutes into this encounter.

Noble scored one and missed one on Boxing Day, but he was in no mood to let this opportunity go begging as he sent Heed’s reserve keeper Mark Foden the wrong way for 1-0.

In many ways this was a game which had familiar themes to the meeting six days previous - and while Noble’s spot-kicks took centre stage, Gateshead’s Robbie Tinkler - a summer target of former boss Matthew Bates - again hit the bar with a fabulous strike from 30 yards.

That was a warning shot for Pools in a half of football which they otherwise dominated.

Steve Watson sent his troops out more than five minutes early after his half-time team talk and that seemed to have an impact, as Heed looked livelier in the final third.

They carved open a chance to level on 50 minutes when a left wing cross found Steven Rigg - Scott Loach was equal to his effort. But in saving the Pools’ stopper could only palm to Scott Boden who, with the goal at his mercy, fired over from eight yards. It’s one he’ll not want to see again.

Josh Hawkes had a quiet afternoon but he’s the type of player who can make things happen out of nothing and he almost conjured some magic on the hour. He glided past two challenges in the area and was brought down for what looked the clearest penalty of both games between these sides only for the offside flag to save the visitors.

Defending set pieces has proved a real Achilles heel for this side, particularly without the presence of club captain Andrew Davies - and so it proved again when a routine looking free-kick from the Gateshead right was inexplicably flicked into his own net by Anderson for 1-1.

Heed were level for just five minutes, though and one of Pools’ substitutes had an almost instantaneous impact.

Former Gateshead midfielder McLaughlin was found in the area by Niko Muir and dispatched the ball through the legs of Mark Foden to put Pools back in the driving seat.

And that is where they stayed as Pools claimed their first three points of the Money era on home turf.