Liam Kennedy's analysis: Hartlepool's soft centre proving so costly

Looks can be deceiving.

Monday, 31st October 2016, 7:30 am
Updated Monday, 31st October 2016, 8:53 am
Barnet's Shaun Batt challenges Pools' Jake Carroll
Barnet's Shaun Batt challenges Pools' Jake Carroll

You can apply this theory to Hartlepool United in many ways.

Watch them for periods of most games and you would think they are title contenders the way they carve out chances and create at will.

But, like I say, don’t always believe what you see.

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Because a glance at the League Two table will show you just how far Craig Hignett’s men are from challenging for promotion to the third tier, which is a target set by themselves, not others.

And because of their own bold statements, it is on that level we have to judge them.

If you weren’t at The Hive on Saturday and merely got news of Saturday’s result in the Sunday paper, or on your TV or social media, it would have been easy to draw the conclusion that Hignett’s men were poor in losing to a team who had not won at home since August.

As I said before, don’t judge a book by its cover.

This one will always go down, in the record books, as a Barnet win.

In black and white the Bees came from two goals down to complete a remarkable victory. And did so in the space on nine action-packed minutes, which saw three goals, a penalty, a red card and a few yellows to boot.

To judge this match purely on the result, though, only tells half the story.

For 68 minutes Pools were outstanding.

They cruised into a two-goal lead without even getting out of second gear.

At half-time the talk in the press box was that this was all “too easy for Pools”.

Those comments gave Hignett’s men the kiss of death.

And as football so often proves, a game is never won, lost or drawn, until the man in the middle, however competant (I’ll touch on this later), puts the whistle to his lips one last time.

From the relative calm of the opening 45, in which Nathan Thomas gave Pools the lead, working a short corner routine with Lewis Alessandra before rocketing an effort in from distance, the eye of the storm was lying in wait.

Padraig Amond then got in on the act, nodding in an inch perfect Thomas centre, before all hell broke loose.

And here’s the bit where I talk about the referee, a person who should never, ever by the one who makes the headlines.

Nicholas Kinseley. Remember the name. And be fearful the next time he crops up with a whistle anywhere near a side in blue and white, or a football pitch, for that matter.

With just 22 minutes remaining Hignett & Co were within touching distance of recording just their fourth win of an up and down campaign, in which they have so far flattered to deceive.

But one straightish ball into the area, which could have been prevented at source, set fourth tier top-scorer John Akinde, a beast of a man, free in the area.

And as he was about to put his considerable size and weight behind the ball to strike at Trevor Carson’s goal, he was felled by the slight, but sprightly figure of Donnelly.

Penalty, the ref said. Make that a red, too.

On reflection, and this is being kind, one of these two decisions was questionable. The other was downright disgraceful.

While Donnelly did catch the man, the way Akinde, as many a striker would, went down was a little soft.

Maybe you can let the referee off with being conned a touch on this one.

But in deciding to send off Donnelly for the foul, he made a mistake no professional should ever make. He did not even know the rules of the game.

Had he deliberately dragged Akinde back, or made a cynical trip or dive with no intention of playing the ball a red would have been Kinseley’s only option.

With Donnelly making a challenge, and a fair attempt to get the ball, a yellow would have sufficed. This is because, to paraphrase new FA rules, no team should be punished twice, ie a pen and a red, for one indiscretion.

But such is Pools’ luck at the moment, particularly with referees, they were. And on that call, and Akinde’s conversion, the whole game flipped on its head.

From almost home and hosed, Pools were on the racks. And The Hive, now buzzing, knew it.

And while he played a considerable part in proceedings, blame for what transpired beyond this cannot be levelled at the man in black.

Pools defenders have to take full responsibilty for yet another capitulation.

First Luke Gambin’s cross deflected over the head of Carson, then substitute Shaun Batt was given the run of the visiting penalty area to slot home what had seemed an unlikely winner minutes later.

Although, the overriding emotions when assessing this game are negativity, anger and frustration, at risk of sounding like the eternal optimist, positives were there to be had.

Lewis Hawkins strolled about the pitch, beating men for fun, looking like he owned the place with his smart touches and neat range of passing.

Thomas also, until injury struck, was by far and away the best player on display.

Barnet were one dimensional, but they hit right at the heart of Pools’ weakness - the backline seems incapable of defending balls into the area.

And they are starting to look soft centred. Keep that up and it could be a long winter ahead.