Dominic Scurr's verdict as Hartlepool United suffer 4-1 pre-season humbling against National League North Gateshead
Hartlepool United fans weren’t the only ones leaving early following Saturday’s pre-season loss at Gateshead.
A resounding 4-1 defeat to the National League North side at the International Stadium compiled Pools’ friendly struggles following Tuesday night’s defeat at Spennymoor Town.
We may only be in pre-season, but the defeat certainly angered manager Dave Challinor as he stormed down the tunnel following the full-time whistle and made a quick exit without speaking to his players or the press.
The Pools boss was highly critical of his players and trialists after the Spennymoor defeat. This time out, his actions spoke louder than any words could.
The Mail’s request to speak to a member of Challinor’s coaching team after the game was also turned down.
It only highlighted the frustration of a match that may not have had any competitive consequences but the sting of defeat was still very much present.
Ahead of the game, Challinor named arguably one of his strongest possible line-ups to face the Heed, featuring five players who started the play-off final last month.
The only notable exception being Mark Shelton, who was rested due to a groin strain. The midfielder watched on from the stands alongside Joe Grey and Mark Cullen who are out with back and hamstring issues respectively.
Only one trialist was named in the starting 11 – 22-year-old Barnsley winger Dan Bramall. And he was the man to break the deadlock with just 10-minutes on the clock with a neat volleyed effort following some good vision from Gavan Holohan.
It was the ideal start for Pools, who looked more energised and focused than their previous match – for about 15-minutes at least.
But once Gateshead started to get their foot on the ball, they very quickly caused problems for Challinor’s side. New signing Cedwyn Scott had a few good chances before finally drawing the Tynesiders level.
Dan Ward intercepted Martin Smith’s attempted pass and slid in the Gateshead striker who calmly stroked the ball past Ben Killip to make it 1-1.
Pools had a golden chance to retake the lead just before half time as some tenacious work from Holohan forced Gateshead into a mistake as he cut out the loose ball and headed it toward goal only to be denied by the post following some good defending from Louis Storey.
But at the other end Gateshead made Pools rue that missed opportunity as Adam Campbell’s tame shot was poked in by Scott for his second of the afternoon to make it 2-1 at the break.
Challinor shared some choice words with his players at the break but they didn’t have the desired impact as the situation went from bad to worse for Pools just moments after the restart.
Another simple through ball from Gateshead saw Macaulay Langstaff in on goal to make it 3-1 with a tidy finish.
Pools were being far to casual in and out of possession, not tracking runs, giving the ball away cheaply and not being alert in the transition.
The side were playing like they were still on the beach, ironic considering they didn’t really get a break following promotion.
A bad afternoon was epitomised by Gateshead’s fourth goal as Killip’s attempted clearance fell straight to Campbell who squared the ball to Greg Olley for an open goal.
At 4-1, you’d think The Heed had been ruthless but Killip had made a number of good saves to keep the scoreline down while Pools didn’t really offer much at the other end.
Trailist Bramall was probably the pick of Pools’ players as even at 4-1 he was showing plenty of energy to get down the wing and try and create chances.
New striker Fela Olomola had a few half chances in the first half but didn’t really get a sniff after the break.
The match marked the return of supporters at the International Stadium for the first time since March 2020 with 723 fans in attendance. Those in the home end were in for a treat while those at the other side of the pitch had seen enough and started heading for the exit.
The 4-1 defeat, pre-season or not, is concerning. Captain Nicky Featherstone said after the match admitted that ‘it’s hard not to panic’ having been soundly beaten by two National League North sides in the space of a week.
As Pools' only full-time opponents in pre-season, Gateshead arguably pose the toughest test but they’re still a club playing two divisions below.
The argument that pre-season doesn’t matter certainly won’t wash with Challinor either.
His players are professional athletes and whether it’s a training drill or playing golf on a day off, they’ll want to win and friendly matches are no different.
Fortunately, the club suffers no real consequences from losing these games which serve a decent purpose in highlighting issues ahead of the new season.
But there is likely to be consequences for the individual players, who could quite easily fall out of favour based on the past two performances.
It’s highlighted the need for reinforcements all over the pitch. In defence and midfield Pools look fairly strong on paper yet in practice this pre-season they have fallen way short of the standards previously set.
And after losing Luke Armstrong, Rhys Oates and their 32 goals from the promotion season, there's a lack of bite up front for Pools at the moment. Mark Cullen and Olomola need assistance otherwise Pools could find themselves a bit goal shy this coming season.
At the moment, you’d say at least seven additions across the park are needed.
But with less than two weeks to go until the new season, it’s important not to get carried away and write the side off before they’ve even kicked a competitive ball.
Plenty needs to change in two weeks, but even if Pools go and lose at Blyth and Dunston, it will all be forgotten about if they beat Crawley Town on August 7.