Carlisle United 1 Hartlepool United 0: Matrch analysis, plenty of quantity but not enough quality
Usually the curse of the manager of the month only happens AFTER a boss has won it.
Alas, it struck Hartlepool United following the announcement that Craig Hignett had simply been nominated for the March award!
Hignett had been hoping to see rejuvenated Pools extend their unbeaten record through to the end of the season.
But the sequence was halted at Carlisle United last night when Hallam Hope’s 55th-minute shot was deflected off defender Carl Magnay and over the unfortunate Trevor Carson.
Given the fact they were roared on by almost 600 fans and had been in such fine form, it proved a deflating night for Pools.
The side had tons and tons of ball but quantity was not translated into quality where it mattered – in the final third of the field.
Too often the last pass, the final cross was a poor one and Pools paid for that.
But, it says much about Pools that a hard-fought 1-0 defeat at Carlisle, who are just a point from the play-offs, is a cause for disappointment.
The effort could not be questioned but the execution was sadly lacking.
There were mitigating factors.
Pools were not helped by the absence of Nathan Thomas with the early exit of Billy Paynter merely adding to their woes.
It meant when Pools were dominating possession, the most dangerous provider and best finisher were watching from the wrong side of the whitewash.
The in-form Thomas - and that magic left boot of his - were missing because of a chest infection, while Paynter limped off eight minutes into the second half.
Given the most advanced three players boasted just five goals between them, you wondered where a goal may come from and so it proved.
Were it a boxing match, Pools would have been unanimous points winners on the judges scorecards, but they could not deliver a KO blow.
“Carlisle are a good side pushing for the play-offs,” said Hignett. “But we made them look ordinary, the second half especially was one-way traffic.
“But we did not have that final piece, the right decision to cut them open and score a goal.
“The fact we haven’t scored is the most disappointing thing because if you look at the facts of the game they tell the true story.
“We had miles more ball, more shots, more attempts on target, yet we’ve come away with nothing.”
Pools best moments came at the beginning and end of the contest.
Luke James was within inches of ending his wait for a Pools goal – in the opening 40-odd seconds. But his effort from a tight angle went the wrong side of Mark Gillespie’s right-stick.
The keeper made a good save from Paynter in the 23rd minute after the striker had got in behind the home defence and shot with his left foot.
Carlisle, for all their ambitions for the play-offs, offered precious little with Jabo Ibehre well off target with a shot from just inside the box while the one time they opened up Pools, Rhys Oates – starting in the absence of Thomas – made a tremendous clearance.
Aside from those moments, the first half was entirely forgetable.
The second period had to get better and it duly did, Trevor Carson making a brilliant save to his left to keep out Ibehre’s header seconds after the re-start.
Hope was required and the sub duly provided it. The Pools defence, which had been excellent, suffered it’s only lapse in the 55th minute when they could not deal with a Mac Gillesphey hoof forward.
And Hope controlled it with aplomb before releasing a shot which clipped Carl Magnay and looped over Carson.
Apart from Jason Kennedy putting a Tom Miller cross just wide from close range, the rest of the match was all-Pools.
Gillespie puts a James cross shot out for corner at his near-post but, perhaps typifying the night for the men in luminous green, Jake Gray’s corner did not make it into play.
Gray was not alone in failing to deliver quality, with the touch and passing of James and Oates not matching their effort and industry while Rakish Bingham, after an encouraging start as Paynter’s replacement, did not find any rhythm.
James shot over bar with his left foot after lively run while there were loud 67th-minute appeals for a penalty after the ball seemed to hit central defender Gillesphey on the arm. Despite the referee and linesman being in the vicinity, there was to be no repeat of Saturday’s spot-kick awards.
Eleven minutes from time, a dipping Lewis Hawkins shot from 30 yards flew justover the home bar.
Pools continued to dominate and they had three sights of goal in stoppage time.
Sub Brad Walker fired over the top, star performer Nicky Featherstone drove into the box only for his deflected shot to end in the arms of the goalie who saved well down to his right from a smart Jake Carroll shot. But it was not to be as the manager of the month curse struck