Dominic Scurr's verdict: Growing concerns for Dave Challinor at Hartlepool United following 3-0 defeat at Woking

One step forward, two steps back – the story of Hartlepool United.

Monday, 14th December 2020, 10:27 am

It’s an all too familiar feeling. The positivity following Tuesday night’s 2-0 win over King’s Lynn Town has been promptly wiped out with a 3-0 defeat at Woking on Saturday afternoon.

The 799 home fans who returned to the Laithwaite Community Stadium for the first time since March were in for a treat at Pools’ expense as goals from Matt Jarvis, Jack Cook and Slavi Spasov saw The Cards run riot.

Not even a controversial sending off for Woking’s Max Kretzschmar deterred the home side as Hartlepool were out worked and out played by their part-time opponents as they dropped to 11th in the table.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Dave Challinor was visibly angry following Saturday's 3-0 defeat at Woking.

Read More

Read More
Hartlepool United player ratings from dismal defeat at Woking – 4s and 3s from 3...

A big problem

Saturday’s heavy defeat wasn’t so much a reality check for Pools, they already got that against Torquay United eight games ago.

This match proved the 5-0 defeat against Torquay wasn’t just an anomaly, it’s a sign of a serious problem for Pools.

But 13 games in and it’s clear they’re still some way short of a number of teams – there’s a naivety in Pools' young squad and a distinct lack of consistency.

After an impressive victory over King’s Lynn, a virtually unchanged side let their performance levels dip alarmingly at Woking.

A failure to deal with crosses into the box saw Pools 2-0 down inside the opening 16-minutes. From there, they never really looked like getting back into the game as what few chances they were able to create went begging.

Dave Challinor’s side look the part when things are going their way but when they’re up against it, they tend to struggle and often implode.

Aside from their opening week win at Chesterfield, Pools have lost every game in which they have conceded first this season – six times in total.

The team aren’t going to play well every week, but a lack of fight and evident inability to grind out results when up against it is something that risks condemning Pools to another season languishing as a mid-table side in the fifth tier of English football.

Growing concern

The side have now lost six of their last 10 games, scoring just seven goals and conceding 17. It’s a worrying run of form that would have probably cost previous managers their jobs under Raj Singh.

But prior to that, Pools had lost just five of their 24 National League matches under Challinor.

Time is something manager’s are scarcely provided at Victoria Park but the former AFC Fylde manager looks to be getting it over his 13 months at the club – and rightly so.

After the defeat, it was evident how much Challinor cares for the job he does and how angered he was by the performance of his players.

The players not showing that same anger and intensity to put things right in the dressing room afterwards is possibly indicative of a deeper problem.

While Pools are clearly able of putting in some good team performances, too often this season they’ve looked like a group of 11 individuals out on the pitch and that proved to be the case once again on Saturday.

Former Pools manager Craig Hignett made a poignant statement shortly before his sacking that he’s seeing too many players just happy to be professional footballers, happy with that title but showing no obvious desire to better themselves and push higher.

The reality is this is effectively as low as it gets in professional football and 14 months and an almost entirely new group of players later, Challinor finds himself echoing that same message.

Perhaps it’s an easy excuse for a manager to make, but there certainly seems an air of truth to it.

It’s Groundhog Day at Hartlepool.

Pressure on Challinor

It’s easy to blame players for a bad performance, but to what degree does the buck stop with the manager?

Football is a results business and the managers are usually the ones to get the chop if there is a downturn in form.

It’s clear something needs to change at the club if they want to mount a serious challenge for the play-offs but it’s difficult to say what that could be without it costing the club serious money that they don’t have.

Challinor’s contract runs until the end of next season and there are few, if any, better managers around willing to join Pools at this stage in the season.

He should be given the chance to put things right, but at the moment that’s proving to be a struggle.

The six changes against King’s Lynn looked to be inspired as it got the result and performance Challinor was hoping for.

But Saturday’s set-back has Pools back to the drawing board again. Inconsistent performances have resulted in a lot of chopping and changing of the side this season.

Players who were performing consistently toward the back end of last season are now struggling to make much of an impact this time out.

It’s a catch 22 situation. Challinor can’t expect consistent performances if personnel are changing every game but at the same time, players can’t expect to stay in the side if they have underperformed.

Ultimately, it’s up to the manager to put together a game plan and select a team capable of winning a game of football and Pools are struggling to do that.

You can blame the players but they’re players the manager has brought in, albeit on a reduced budget. And Challinor has been backed in recent weeks with the signings of Joe Bunney and Luke Armstrong in particular.

Pools were always going to be a work in progress and with the side two points off the play-off places after 13 games, now is not the time for knee-jerk reactions. But patience is starting to wear thin.

A message from the Football Clubs Editor

Our aim is to provide you with the best, most up-to-date and most informative Hartlepool United coverage 365 days a year.

This depth of coverage costs, so to help us maintain the high-quality reporting that you are used to, please consider taking out a subscription to our new sports-only package here.

Your support is much appreciated. Richard Mennear, Football Clubs Editor