Hartlepool United’s first away game of the League Two season and first away match with travelling supporters since March 2020 saw them travel across the country to face a Barrow side who narrowly escaped relegation last season.
But the 619 travelling fans (according to the official attendance) ultimately returned to the north east disappointed as Pools fell to a 3-2 defeat.
To their credit, Hartlepool twice came from behind after early set-backs in either half. Ozzy Zanzala opened the scoring for Barrow inside three minutes before Tyler Burey headed the visitors level less than 15-minutes later.
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Early in the second half Josh Gordon headed in to make it 2-1 before debut striker Will Goodwin scored his first ever Football League goal to make it 2-2.
But that wasn’t enough as substitute Dimitri Sea then turned in from close range to secure the three points for the Bluebirds.
Dave Challinor made four changes from the side that lost to Crewe Alexandra in the Carabao Cup, starting the same back-line and midfield as the opening day but changing the two strikers.
Luke Molyneux dropped to the bench for Burey’s first league start while Goodwin was handed his debut just days after his arrival in place of the injured Fela Olomola.
Mark Cullen also didn't travel with the side after suffering from illness.
A game between two sides who like to play football but lacked any distinct goalscorers was shaping up to be a good contest that may only take a goal of two to decide.
But that prediction was thrown out the window almost immediately as Zanzala burst down the right flank before cutting into Pools’ penalty area and placing the ball into the left corner of the goal. A dream start for Barrow in their first home game as an EFL side in front of fans for 49 years.
But Challinor was far from happy with the fact he felt Zanzala was guilty of a push on Gary Liddle in the build-up not to mention his side’s defending that followed.
Pools were able to respond well to the early set-back and quickly got bodies forward. The final pass or delivery was lacking until the 17-minute mark when Jamie Sterry’s deep cross into the box was met by Burey to nod in at the far post.
Both teams pushed to try and gain control of the game for the remainder of the first half. Pools had the majority of possession but Barrow created the best opportunity as Mark Ellis’ back post header sailed across the face of goal and just wide.
The sides went in at 1-1.
Nightmare start – part two
Challinor rightly questioned his players after the game as they twice failed to keep things tight early into each half.
Barrow scored with their first attack of the first half and it was a case of deja vu in the second as Patrick Brough’s cross with pace from the left was met by the head of Gordon at the back post as Barrow re-took the lead.
But unlike the first time Barrow went ahead, Pools weren’t able to get their foot on the ball and immediately ask questions of the opposition defence. Instead, Barrow were pushing for the crucial third goal that would all but secure victory.
Enter Will Goodwin
The Stoke City loanee had shown some neat touches and good link-up play over the course of the game but he hadn’t really been given an opportunity on goal.
But just past the hour mark, another cross into the box – this time from David Ferguson – was brilliantly controlled by Mark Shelton to tee-up Goodwin who calmly rolled the ball into the bottom right corner.
A seasoned striker’s finish right in front of the travelling Poolies was just what the 19-year-old needed to get his time at the club up and running.
And the fans, who had made their voices heard throughout the afternoon being packed into such a small section of the ground that it would have been comical had it not looked slightly unsafe.
The way the game was unfolding, it always seemed as if another goal was just around the corner. And the fifth goal of the afternoon proved to be the decisive one.
It came with a huge slice of fortune as Ellis’ scuffed shot deflected off his teammate Josh Kay and into the path of Sea who blasted home one of the easiest goals of his career from inside the six-yard box.
The immediate reaction to the goal was that it was offside. Several Pools players stopped and protested before the ball had even hit the back of the net.
Even Sea himself was reluctant to celebrate until it was clear the linesman had kept his flag down. It was a close call with the attacking player getting the benefit of the doubt.
Sea’s joy turned to pain shortly after as he was treated for a head injury. He continued briefly before Barrow exercised their fourth substitution in the event of a concussion option as former Pools forward Luke James entered the fray for a brief cameo.
Shortly afterwards, Pools made a similarly strange change as 6ft 4in defender Jake Lawlor came on as a striker for his debut.
The substitution was another statement from the Pools boss to show his lack of striking options.
It was a final roll of the dice as Hartlepool lumped balls into the box but couldn’t find a third equaliser despite 10-minutes of stoppage time.
Nicky Featherstone came closest to making it 3-3 with a well-struck 25-yard volley but it was to no avail as the match ended 3-2 to Barrow.
After the highs of last weekend’s win over Crawley Town, this game comes as a timely reality check as to just how difficult League Two football will be for Pools, particularly if their attacking options remain limited.