Liam Kennedy's Hartlepool United analysis: When does a blip become a crisis for Pools?
Before the weekend Hartlepool United were said to be on a National League blip.
The question I would ask is when does a blip merge into a crisis?
Matthew Bates and Pools have not won a fifth tier game for more than six weeks. Their last victory in the division came back on October 6 - a 2-0 home victory over Boreham Wood.
The only team they’ve beaten in that time are Kidsgrove Athletic in the FA Cup. It’s fair to say it’s been a tough time being a Poolie of late.
Does this current run warrant being labelled the first real crisis under Bates? Or is this merely an expected bump in the road?
Not wanting to sit on the fence, but it is probably somewhere in between.
Let’s analyse Saturday’s performance - which encases Pools’ season to date.
For 20 minutes Pools were untouchable. They got in their opposition’s faces, they looked confident on the ball and attacked with real purpose. When they did that they looked like scoring at will.
But, as has been the case too often this season, defensive errors crept in and cost Pools dear.
For the 70-odd minutes that proceeded the positive opening Bates’ men were abject. They were second to most balls, looked like being cut open every time Barnet broke and did very little to make shaky keeper Mark Cousins work.
Had this game been a one-off, you’d look at it and write it off. It is not. It’s becoming a very concerning trend.
Too many defensive errors are costing goals - it mirrors last season in that sense, despite the improved personnel.
And with that Pools’ really buoyant beginning to 2018/19 is starting to go up in smoke.
They now sit in 12th, six points off the play-off places.
On to the game itself, and it was a quickfire brace by Manny Duku that saw Hartlepool suffer a 3-1 defeat.
Pools took an early lead through the recalled Peter Kioso but Duku struck twice inside a minute to sink Pools. Sub Josh Walker added a late third and there were boos at the final whistle after another poor home showing.
On the selection front, Bates made two changes - in came on-loan Boro striker Tyrone O’Neill with Marcus Dinanga dropping to the bench, he partnered Luke James up top. The other change saw Peter Kioso return after his one-match ban. The defender replaced the suspense Carl Magnay at the back, with Bates keeping faith the 4-4-2 system that served Pools so well in the goalless at Gillingham in the FA Cup.
And it was Kioso that put Pools in front. The ball into the box from the right was missed by keeper Cousins, Paddy McLaughlin had the chance to turn home into open goal but scuffed his chance. Kioso was on hand to divert in via the post.
Pools, who had lost their last three National League games, were worthy leaders, having started the game well with crisp passing and movement. They almost doubled their lead, Barnet midfielder Charlie Adams heading wide of his own post.
The game then turned on its head within the space of a minute. The first Barnet goal saw dangerman Duku powerfully head home a Dan Sweeney cross from the right flank.
Moments later, Duku dispossessed Kioso and cleverly dinked his shot past Scott Loach in the Pools goal.
Barnet had the better of the exchanges in the opening 20 minutes of the second half, sub Byron Harrison dinking the ball just wide of Loach’s goal from a tight angle. There were boos from a frustrated home crowd as the ball drifted just wide.
Bates made a change with 64 minutes on the clock, O’Neill, whose influence had waned after a bright opening to the game, subbed for Niko Muir. It sparked Pools into life, Richardson crossing to James at the back post, his header hit the back of a defender and cleared behind for a corner.
It didn’t last long, Barnet almost scored a third with 74 minutes on the clock, sub Josh Walker this time shooting just wide as Loach closed him down.
The visitors did add a late third, Walker took advantage of some more slack defending from Anderson before coolly finishing past Loach to leave Pools on the end of another league defeat.