Aldershot Town 0-3 Hartlepool United analysed – a lucky win or an Antony Sweeney masterclass?
Hartlepool United ended a difficult week in the best way possible as they secured their biggest win of the season so far at Aldershot Town.
In a week that saw manager Craig Hignett and assistant Ged McNamee sacked following a disappointing 2-1 defeat at Stockport County, Pools travelled the length of the country under the caretaker charge of Antony Sweeney without any real training taking place ahead of the game.
But things couldn’t have started much better as Josh Hawkes found the net inside the opening five minutes on only his second start of the campaign. After Aldershot had a penalty turned down, United countered brilliantly as Hawkes burst through, showed good feet to shift it onto his right foot and stroked the ball into the right side of the goal.
The young midfielder missed a golden chance to grab his and Hartlepool’s second in the first half from the penalty spot as his side footed effort was comfortably saved by Aldershot goalkeeper Mitch Walker. The home side would argue justice was served as they felt the foul on Ryan Donaldson that won the spot-kick was outside the area.
The Shots looked to punish Pools for the missed chance but it was actually the hosts who were made to rue their missed opportunities as substitute Gavan Holohan slid in to meet Nicke Kabamba’s ball into the box and double the visitors’ advantage going into the closing stages.
The Irish midfielder then repaid the favour for setting-up Kabamba in near identical fashion in stoppage time to seal the impressive 3-0 win and a dream start for Antony Sweeney.
It was only the second time Pools had scored more than once away from home this season and the first time they’d scored more than once and managed to keep a clean sheet.
The win was their biggest of the season so far but it was far from their most comfortable display.
Aldershot were on top for large periods of the game. Even Hawkes’ early goal came against the run of play.
For once, there was a slice of good fortune for Sweeney’s side as The Shots had plenty of chances to draw level but were denied by a mixture of excellent defending and goalkeeping as well as poor finishing.
Ben Killip made several fine stops though Peter Kioso’s last-ditch challenge soon after half-time to deny Ethan Chislett will be up there for one of the challenges of the season. Aldershot were knocking on the door at the time and if the young defender mistimed that even slightly, it’s a penalty and Hartlepool’s chances of winning the game decrease drastically.
It was a pleasing display on the whole but things could have been a lot different as United did allow their opponents to create one too many clear-cut chances which on another day would have went in.
While Sweeney will refuse to take the plaudits after the win. He was the one who selected the team and made the substitutions with every change he made proving to make a difference.
Hawkes and Kabamba came into the side and got on the score sheet. While Holohan and Luke James came off the bench to play key roles in helping put a difficult game to bed at the EBB Stadium.
Holohan’s 15-minute cameo will go down as one best introductions you’ll see this season as the Irishman breathed fresh life into a slightly flagging Pools side with a goal and an assist as well as several neat interchanges of play.
James’ display cannot be understated either, he came on for a fairly ineffective Gime Toure and just added a new dimension going forward by playing off the focal point of Kabamba. His touch to trap a high ball and feed in the striker in the build-up to the second goal was crucial in helping Pools seal the win.
For once, Pools showed a refreshingly clinical and pleasantly lucky side to their game in Hampshire. Credit where credit is due to Sweeney for tweaking things slightly and implementing his own vision on the side.
The change to four at the back following a decent second half showing after switching at Stockport gave Hartlepool a balanced an threatening look at both ends as they played Aldershot on the counter attack.
Sweeney, along with caretaker assistant Ian McGuckin, still wasn’t afraid to change things up even when Pools had the lead. The proactive decision to tweak the formation at half-time with Donaldson coming more central and Toure pushing into a more traditional striker’s position helped keeper Aldershot on their toes during a crucial period of the game.
So far, Sweeney has done brilliantly under what must be incredibly difficult circumstances. But ultimately this was Craig Hignett’s side and whether you agree with his sacking or not, both him and McNamee deserve as much credit as anyone for Saturday’s result.
The sacking hit the dressing room hard this week and it was clear that the performance and the result was for them but now they must move on.
It was a poor result at Stockport but now it’s one defeat in five and six points out of nine which isn’t too bad considering the long distances they’ve had to travel and the opponents they’ve come up against. Pools have certainly had worse weeks on the pitch.