Hartlepool United have banished their defensive demons - and this stunning stat proves it

Let's rewind the clocks by six months.

Sunday, 14th October 2018, 11:41 am
Updated Sunday, 14th October 2018, 11:43 am
Peter Kioso has played his part in Hartlepool's fine defensive performances

Pools had just beaten Leyton Orient 1-0 to secure National League survival after after a topsy-turvy season.

While Louis Laing's decisive goal earned the plaudits, equally impressive was the clean sheet kept by United - a first in eight games and a rarity in a campaign blighted by defensive blunders and individual horror shows.

Coverage in association with Grand Central

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Fast-forward to this weekend, and the first time the two sides have met since that April evening, and Pools defensive demons are well and truly banished.

While the goalless draw at Orient was disappointing on some counts - particularly given that Matthew Bates' men had a man advantage for half an hour - there were undoubted positives to take.

And perhaps the most glaring of those was the clear defensive improvements which were evidenced throughout.

It's fair to say that last season, Pools would have lost this game.

Despite going a man down, the hosts continue to attack and absolutely peppered Hartlepool's backline in the dying minutes - with a combination of heroic tackles and fine saves from Scott Loach ensuring the game remained goalless.

You couldn't help but think that one of Orient's chances would have found the back of the net just a matter of months ago but, thanks to a number of tweaks, Pools are a much more effective defensive unit.

And in his post-match press conference, Bates referenced a stunning stat which emphasises how Pools have turned last season's weak spot into a real pillar strength.

Hartlepool were only the second team to stop Leyton Orient scoring this season.

Before Saturday, only promotion rivals Sutton had stopped the O's from finding the back of the net - even title favourites Salford couldn't keep them out.

It's pretty clear to see why, too. Orient have some extremely talented attacking players in their ranks.

Both Macauley Bonne and James Alabi should arguably be playing at a higher level while James Dayton and Jobi McAnuff already have, and their quality was evident throughout.

But for all the talent in Orient's squad, Pools more than matched them defensively.

Bonne, who has been linked with big-money moves to the Football League having netted ten times already this season, was mostly anonymous as Pools marshalled him well - Andrew Davies in particular dealing with his threat superbly.

For the most part, Orient were restricted to long-range shots with Dayton and Craig Clay both restoring to efforts from distance to no avail in a cagey first half.

When the O's did manage to fashion together a move, Pools were able to snuff it out - a fine tackle from young Peter Kioso on Alabi in the first half sticks in the memory as a perfect example.

And on the few occasions where Scott Loach was tested, he was more than equal to the task as he continues his fine personal form this season.

Stunning late saves from James Brophy and Alabi ensured that Pools would secure a fifth clean sheet of the campaign.

Problems at the other end of the pitch have been well documented and persist - substitute Conor Netwon coming the closest to a Pools goal when he struck the woodwork from a tight angle late on.

But Pools now always know they will have a fighting chance in any game thanks to their solid rearguard.

It certainly is quite the turnaround from last season - and one which Matthew Bates and his staff deserve great credit for engineering.