Ebbsfleet United 2-2 Hartlepool United analysed: Familiar frustrations continue to haunt Pools but a brighter future under Dave Challinor could be on the horizon
After the perfect start to life under Dave Challinor, Hartlepool United were brought back down to earth at Ebbsfleet United with a sense of déjà vu.
It’s been one of Pools’ most hectic weeks in recent memory as they’ve had to travel a staggering 1,860 miles – twice down to Yeovil Town, the first of which seeing the game controversially called off at the last minute before returning on Tuesday night to claim a 4-1 FA Cup victory.
And with just one full day training under their belt since then, Challinor’s side made yet another mammoth journey down to Kent to face struggling Ebbsfleet at Stonebridge Road.
It was the new Hartlepool manager’s first National League game in charge as he looked to end a run of two matches without a win.
And after a fairly scrappy opening 15-minutes, the visitors really started to hit their stride and take control.
Gavan Holohan found himself in space as he charged toward goal and dinked the ball into the bottom right corner to make it 1-0 after 32-minutes.
From then, Challinor’s men stepped things up a gear as they looked a threat whenever they got the ball into Ebbsfleet’s half.
Pools were moving the ball around quickly with purpose and intent – this was epitomised by their second goal in the run-up to half-time.
Under pressure, Ryan Donaldson produced an audacious back-heel flick inside his own half to nutmeg an Ebbsfleet man and launch a Pools attack. Luke James, sporting a fetching blue bandage on his head with a tuft of hair poking out of the top charged down the right flank and curled in a pin-point cross for Holohan to nod in from close range for his and Pools’ second of the game.
If the away side weren’t in control before hand, they certainly were now as The Fleet fans were getting restless and on the verge of turning completely against their side.
Things went from bad to worse for the hosts as Josh Umerah let his frustrations get the better of him as he was shown a straight red card for kicking-out at Michael Raynes.
While the Ebbsfleet man couldn’t have any complaints over the decision, referee Lloyd Wood was not the most popular man at Stonebridge Road when the half-time whistle blew shortly after.
With the 2-0 lead and a man advantage against a side languishing in the National League relegation zone, all signs pointed to another Pools victory.
The home fans were almost accepting of another defeat themselves. “I’d take 2-0 now,” muttered a disgruntled Ebbsfleet fan at the half-time break.
This was Pools though, their 2-2 draw at Notts County a fortnight prior was still fresh in the memory.
But this was the perfect opportunity to finally put a team well and truly to the sword, something they are yet to do so far this season.
The home fans were angry, the home side were a man down and couldn’t cope with a Hartlepool outfit who were full of confidence and energy.
A 2-0 scoreline always risks being a dangerous one but a third goal would put the game to bed.
And Challinor’s side had the perfect opportunity to seal the victory just moments after the restart as Holohan somehow squandered the opportunity to grab his hat-trick as he lifted the ball over the crossbar from close range with the goal gaping.
As good as Pools had been in the first half, they had taken their foot off the gas slightly in an attempt to try and kill the game and slow things down.
Perhaps a degree of complacency started to kick in when Nicky Featherstone was dispossessed on the half-way line, gifting Ebbsfleet a rare opportunity on goal as Myles Weston burst though before being tugged down by the Pools midfielder.
Featherstone was shown a yellow card for the tactical foul though the home crowd were energised and calling for red.
Shortly after, Weston broke away again and slotted the ball past Ben Killip to make it 2-1 with 18-minutes remaining.
Now the game had a completely different complexion as Ebbsfleet had the momentum and looked the more likely side to score again.
A needless free-kick conceded by Fraser Kerr 25-yards from goal provided another opportunity for the home side. Weston stepped up and his delivery sneaked straight in to level the scoreline inside the final 10-minutes.
And all of a sudden, three points that looked so likely after 60-minutes now risked being nothing at all as Ebbsfleet continued to push for a winner after drawing level.
Still, the game took another late turn when Hartlepool forced a succession of corners deep into stoppage time. Substitute Jason Kennedy thought he’d snatched another last gasp winner only for his close range effort to be cleared off the line.
And that summed up Pools’ afternoon, so close yet so far as they had to settle for another frustrating point on the road.
Like Notts County two weeks prior, Hartlepool had been excellent and exciting during the first half playing with energy and confidence.
The general consensus from Ebbsfleet fans, coaches and players following full-time was that Pools had been the best team they’ve faced this season for the best part of an hour. Perhaps it’s easier for them to say after snatching a draw from the jaws of defeat but it certainly seemed like a fair assessment given how dominant Challinor’s side had been.
And that's the most frustrating part. The team can’t keep playing so well and failing to win, it will ultimately cost them if it continues.
It’s important Hartlepool aren’t looking back at results like this and Notts County come the end of the season and thinking about what could have been.
Challinor will look at the positives and try to address the negatives as he finally gets a proper week of training with the players.
The performances have certainly picked up in recent weeks but it’s mainly been something of a continuation of what caretaker manager Antony Sweeney was doing.
Challinor hasn’t had the time or opportunity to properly implement his style on the side and that brings a sense of excitement of what could be on the horizon.