Plenty of positives for Pools? Liam Kennedy discusses Hartlepool's Maidstone draw
A point, is a point, is a point in football.
It’s not the joy of three, nor is it the despair of none.
You can get a good point and a bad point - this to Hartlepool United definitely fell into the former category.
In many ways this was a game of two halves - pardon the very worn cliche.
For 45 minutes, despite falling behind, Pools were dominant. They controlled the midfield with Liam Noble and Nicky Featherstone prominent.
The tireless running of Niko Muir and Luke James gave them options, while Jake Cassidy was a constant thorn in Maidstone’s side. His runs in behind showed a very different aspect to his usual hold up game, as he led the line expertly.
Further back Andrew Davies was the rock this team has been crying out for, ably supported by the excellent Carl Magnay, debutant Peter Kioso and the unflappable Scott Loach.
On the wings Pools looked full of fluency, too.
Ryan Donaldson was playing out of position but you’d never have guessed it. He was never out of position on the right and gave a cracking extra option on the counter. Mark Kitching on the other flank was as good as his pre-season promise hinted.
With all that said this was far from a perfect performance. It was a step in the right direction, though.
They showed they can deal with the pressure of expectation, which was heaped on when they fell behind. They showed they can bounce back. They showed their attacking intest. They were agressive, looked for openings and retained their shape and resilience when under the cosh. More is to come from this team, and more will definitely be expected.
But as far as starts go, this was a definite pass mark for Matthew Bates’ men, despite not being able to replicate their Gallagher Stadium win from earlier this year.
On to the action itself, it was a debut goal for Noble which ensured Pools kicked off their National League campaign with a point on the road.
A Blair Turgott penalty opened the scoring before Noble struck a minute later to level things up on the opening day of the fifth tier.
Boss Matthew Bates went with an attacking looking line up, playing all three of his main, recognised strikers in the same team with Niko Muir and Luke James off Jake Cassidy.
Five players were handed their debut by Bates - Noble, Kitching, Kioso, Davies and Muir.
Pools got off to a bright start with Noble seeing plenty of the ball and Muir a livewire up top.
Cassidy had a number of chances to open the scoring, with some clever movement and running in behind, but it was in fact the hosts, against the run of play, who robbed the first goal of the game.
An aimless centre into the area looked set to clear everyone but Ollie Muldoon got his head to the ball ahead of Muir’s boot and despite the Maidstone man’s head being low, the referee called a penalty. Turgott made no mistake from the spot, sending Loach the wrong way.
The lead was undeserved but it was to last less than 60 seconds as a smart move down the right from James allowed the frontman to find Noble who stroked into the bottom corner from the edge of the area for 1-1 at the break.
The home side turned the screw into the second period as Cassidy had to be at his best to nod a header off the line at one end before Kioso’s volley was also hacked away when destined for the net at the other end.
With the game played at such a frantic pace for the first hour, and the temperature so high in Kent, the tempo dropped as drinks breaks became more of a feature and substitutions necessary.
The hosts began to crank up the pressure. Seth Nana Twumasi brought the very best out of Loach late on when his powerful drive had to beaten away by last season’s player of the season.
Despite having to weather a late storm, thanks in no small part to Magnay’s goal-saving challenge, there was to be no sting in the tail for Pools and they walked away from the venue they won at last season, with a point to show for their efforts.
Solid start. Plenty of positives. And most importantly a massive improvement on this time last season, when Pools kicked off with an opening day loss to Dover.