Bradford City 1-3 Hartlepool United: Four key talking points – striker solution, character and finally winning away
It’s been a long time coming but Hartlepool United finally secured an away win.
A 3-1 win over Bradford City on a wet and windy night at Valley Parade was just what Pools’ needed to get the proverbial monkey off their back and start looking forward in League Two.
Mark Cullen’s brace was the perfect way for the striker to mark his full league debut for the club after a frustrating start to life at Pools for the number nine.
After Bradford pulled a goal back through Paudie O’Connor, Hartlepool substitute Reagan Ogle forced Yann Songo’o to turn the ball into the back of his own net in stoppage time to secure a crucial three points for Dave Challinor’s side.
Here are four key talking points from the win…
After Saturday’s dismal showing at Salford City, changes were required in order to get a reaction from Pools.
Challinor handed Cullen his first league start for the club while Luke Molyneux also returned to partner him up front. Gavan Holohan made his first start since early September after recovering from a groin injury, Mark Shelton also returned to the fold after a rare omission from the starting line-up at Salford.
In defence, Luke Hendrie came into a slightly altered back four with Timi Odusina and Zaine Francis-Angol dropping out. Joe Grey and Ogle dropped to the bench but Will Goodwin missed out entirely following his half-time withdrawal at Salford.
The switch to a back four with a midfield diamond and two up front really helped Pools assert their dominance early on and get off to a flyer.
OFF THE MARK
Less than a minute in, Cullen found the back of the net to give Pools the lead. Molyneux slipped the ball through to Holohan whose angled strike was parried by Bradford goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell only for the lurking Cullen to bundle into the goal.
What appeared a scrappy goal in the end was in fact a well worked team goal from Pools’ perspective and the type of instinctive poacher’s goal they had been crying out for all season.
Cullen did exactly what he's in the side to do, get in the box and pounce on opportunities, something that Pools’ strikers have struggled to do in the previous dozen matches this season.
Not only was it the perfect start for Pools, it was the first time they had scored away from home in 521 minutes of football and the first time they had led a game on the road all campaign.
And the storming start quickly got under the skin of the Bradford fans, who became audibly agitated and frustrated with their side with just 12-minutes on the clock.
The hosts would slowly get into the game as the half wore on but Pools were able to restrict them to set-piece opportunities and shots from distance.
All in all, it was as comfortable a first half as it was an impressive one.
After the break, Bradford continued to push for an equaliser but couldn’t find a way through Pools’ organised back four. Luke Hendire and Neill Byrne created little fuss and kept the likes of Andy Cook and Charles Vernam at arm's length.
But just before the hour mark, Cullen was there again, in the right place at the right time, to head Jamie Sterry’s deflected cross in from a yard out.
What was perhaps one of the easiest and scrappiest goals of Cullen’s career, was a thing of beauty for the Poolies who had been starved of such poacher’s instincts all season.
Challinor said the answers to Pools’ attacking problems had to come from within and in Cullen, it’s very early stages and he still needs to get up to full speed – but the signs are promising.
With 17-minutes remaining Bradford pulled a goal back as O’Connor’s free header from a corner found the back of the net.
Now Pools, up against an experienced Bradford side with thousands of fans now behind them on a wet but surprisingly mild Tuesday night, would have to show their character in order to secure that first away win.
It was a mental test for the side and one they stood up to brilliantly as immediately after conceding, the impressive Matty Daly made his way into the Bradford penalty area and saw his deflected effort curl out for a corner.
It was just the response Pools needed to set the tone for the closing stages of the game.
Rather than hanging on for a 2-1 win, the away side continued to get forward and be positive.
The attacking substitutions of Mike Fondop and Ogle paid dividends too as the latter helped put the result beyond doubt just seconds after coming on.
The Australian delivered a low cross from the right which was deftly turned in as an own goal by a sliding Songo’o to make it 3-1.
MORE THAN JUST THE FIRST AWAY WIN
This result felt particularly special not just because it was a long overdue first away win of the season or because it was a fine team performance – it was the first time Pools had won a league match away from home in front of their own supporters since a 1-0 win at Solihull Moors in March 2020.
You’d have to go back to March 2017 to find the last time the side won a Football League game away from home too – that being a 1-0 win at Cambridge United.
Despite the dismal away record, Poolies have continued to follow the club up and down the country this season with unwavering support.
Over 1,000 (though no official figure was confirmed) supporters made the journey to Valley Parade on Tuesday night and finally got the performance and result their efforts have deserved.
It's nights like this that is what being back in the Football League is all about.