Roy Kelly's Analysis: Hartlepool get good point from Northampton
Talk about a kick where it hurts.
Hartlepool United end the 100% run of champions-elect Northampton Town with a very worthy draw and then learn they have dropped a place in the League Two table.
The relegation zone has become uncomfortably close again.
It does look dicey in the short term - Pools could find themselves in the bottom two by the end of the week if they leave Bristol Rovers and Barnet empty-handed and York win at Dagenham & Redbridge on Saturday.
But, there’s always a but isn’t there, the long term is looking a little brighter.
A third of the season is still to be played with 48 points up for grabs.
Now, having made the outlandish prediction last week that Pools would beat the Cobblers, this writer is not suggesting they will do a Northampton and go on a 10-game winning streak.
However, if they translate the promise shown on Saturday, they are capable of winning and winning plenty.
Almost everything came right against the runaway leaders, almost being the operative word.
Defensively, Pools were excellent, keeping Chris Wilder’s side down to the minimum amount of chances with the back four of Carl Magnay, Matthew Bates, Adam Jackson and Jake Carroll excellent.
Another new midfield combination of Nicky Featherstone, Jake Gray and Brad Walker did their bit, highlighted by the fact Northampton were forced to try to force things.
How many times did you see a Cobblers pass roll harmlessly out for a goal-kick or throw-in? A testament to the pressure Pools applied.
Billy Paynter looked back to his best, all that was missing was a goal.
He really put himself about and was superb in his link play with fit-again Luke James and Nathan Thomas his company up the field.
On the evidence of the last three games, Craig Hignett is making a difference and he needs to make a difference with James and Thomas.
They provided big nuisance value, all they are lacking is goals. Thankfully, they are not shy at having a shot but composure is required, so hopefully Hignett can work his magic on the training ground.
It was remarkable given the pace and intensity to Saturday’s game that it ended goalless.
Watching those frantic early minutes, it had all the hallmarks of being a 4-3!
It never materialised but for Pools a 0-0 against Northampton will have felt like a win.
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The way the Cobblers opened up with incredible energy and movement it appeared as if they were looking for a first-round KO.
But Pools would not allow themselves to be forced back on the ropes.
James went scurrying away on the right following a great ball from Paynter but his shot was wide of Adam Smith’s right stick.
Gray seemed to be tripped in the area by Danny Rose on 20 minutes after good play down the right but referee Matt Haywood was considerably better positioned than me and ruled no penalty.
Paynter had a header straight at Smith a minute later and put the ball in the net soon after an almighty scramble in the away box.
Mr Haywood’s whistle had already gone for a free-kick on the edge of the box, giving Pools a chance to implement something from their set-piece session on Tuesday.
Alas while Walker got his effort over the wall, it was considerably over as the ball smacked into the Smith & Graham board on the Rink End Stand roof.
Thomas headed over from a peach of a Magnay cross and the winger then tried to set up Paynter with an teasing cross from the left only for substitute defender Luke Prosser to make a vital interception.
Northampton had few chances though Prosser will have been frustrated to have seen a header go harmlessly wide at the other end.
Thomas was at it again before the interval when some trickery opened up some room for a shot only to sky it into the car park behind the goal.
He was not alone in this affliction as Carroll cleared the Town End stand early in the second half after James had a left-foot shot blocked.
Gray and James were showing up well in this period as was Paynter who robbed Jason Taylor on half-way to set up an opening.
It was crying out for a Walker piledriver from he edge of the box, but instead he tried to find the supporting James but the pass was a poor one.
It was end-to-end stuff and Paynter went close in the 64th minute just seconds after James Collins had passed up a good chance at the other end when he failed to make a clean connection.
Northampton, desperately trying for their 11th straight League Two win, had the better of the last quarter of the contest but never threatened Trevor Carson’s goal.
Paynter had a tame late header straight at Smith from a Magnay cross after starting the move on half-way.
It perhaps summed up the afternoon – plenty of passion and effort but no end product.
But the promise is there and now they must carry it forward.