MATCH ANALYSIS: Lack of killer instinct costs Hartlepool dear, but no need for doom and gloom

Football is, at its best, a very simple game. It's easy to forget that sometimes.

Monday, 9th January 2017, 10:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 11th January 2017, 2:50 am
Billy Paynter goes for goal against Grismby

Often it is complicated by so-called experts, over-analysed by ex-pros with tactics and formations picked apart, or wannabe Antonio Contes on the terraces having their say.

The way I see it is, call me small-minded or whatever you like, but cut away all of the talk and you have two teams whose sole aim, however they achieve it, is to score more goals than the other.

Sadly, this is something Hartlepool United are struggling to grasp at the moment.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Now, before doing my own picking of the bones from Saturday’s 1-0 home loss to Grimsby Town, I want to make sure it is said, Pools have played a lot worse than this in recent weeks.

Arguably they were worse at Accrington and got a draw.

They were less impressive for 60 minutes of the 3-2 home win over Morecambe, although that was after they’d romped to a three-goal lead early on.

So despite the grumbling in the comments sections online, fan forums and on the final whistle at the Northern Gas & Power Stadium in the aftermath of the loss, it’s not all doom and gloom for Pools.

There was a problem, though. In fact, there were a few.

And they have been apparent on too many occasions this season, even when Pools have been scoring and getting results.

Issue one - Craig Hignett’s men are nowhere near as clinical as they need to be to win games.

Padraig Amond had a fantastic chance to add to his tally this season, hitting the goalkeeper instead. Billy Paynter had a chance, too, but let himself down in front of goal.

The best chance of all came from nothing - debutant Sean Kavanagh, signed on loan from Fulham in the week, struck a brilliant curling effort that was nodded off the line. His performance, which was the real plus point from the encounter, deserved so much more.

It’s no good creating chances and not taking them. Grimsby had one real chance of note and took it. With that the three points went back to Lincolnshire.

Simplicity. Like I said earlier, football is a simple game. Take your chances, more often that not, you win games.

Another problem is in Pools’ midfield.

And all too often, through the middle, play is slow, laboured and not as incisive as it needs to be.

Pools midfield trio are all a bit too similar.

Nicky Featherstone has his qualities - he always wants the ball and can keep things ticking over, but he hasn’t got a tackle in him and lacks a touch of pace.

Lewis Hawkins, too. His workrate is second to none, he never shies away from a battle and chases every ball, but is he really that different to Featherstone, or Michael Woods, who also gives his all but doesn’t have a killer pass or much of a goal threat in him, for that matter?

Put Josh Laurent in this mix as well. Energetic, youthful but lacking composure in the final third or the consistency to hold down a regular place. The latter of these issues is to be expected of an inexperienced youngster I might add.

It is no shock that Hignett had hoped to add Carlisle-bound Gary Liddle to his squad.

It’s too easy to dwell on the negative, though. There were also some positives, despite the result.

One problem that seems to have been nipped in the bud is that defensive frailties of days gone by appear, for now, to have been eradicated.

Pools now don’t lie down and die when a goal goes in. In fact, they took control of the game against the Mariners after falling behind. The Cambridge debacle seems to be nothing but a distant, if unwanted, memory.

Also the goal itself, although disappointing, was a touch unlucky, a deflection wrong-footed the backline, in particular the otherwise impressive Scott Harrison.

Some of the defensive improvement may be put that down to the switch to a 3-5-2, but, for me too much is made of formations.

Two up front hasn’t really brought any considerable upturn in fortunes.

Yes, it has Pools’ two best goalscorers on the park at the same time, which can be no bad thing. But have the team really been scoring more goals or winning more games? Probably not. They were much more potent in a 4-3-3 earlier in the campaign.

The same can be said of three at the back.

Are Pools conceding less goals than they did with a four? Well, arguably with lesser personnel - trade Toto Nsiala for Matthew Bates - they were conceding less goals in the run after the embarrassing early-season loss to Stevenage.

This is where is all comes back to the simplicity of football.

You can rearrange any 11 players in any way you like but if they haven’t got the fire in their belly, and commitment to do their job, whatever that may be, you are destined to lose.

Pools did everything to win on Saturday. To a man every player worked hard. Every player gave their all. This was no lack of effort why Pools did not prevail. Saying this should be a given, but it was an area that rightfully came under the microscope a few weeks back.

The department Pools were lacking, though, was in quality.

Where Adi Yussuf succeeded in the area, Amond and Paynter failed.

In a simple game, the finest of margins can make the difference. And one moment of fortune, combined with a flash of class in front of goal, meant Pools did not quite get what they deserved, with Town gaining revenge for Pools’ Blundell Park demolition earlier this campaign.