Four big talking points as Hartlepool United lose 1-0 at Sutton United – away frustrations continue for lacklustre Pools
There were more away day blues for Hartlepool United as they were beaten 1-0 at Sutton United on Tuesday night.
Ben Goodliffe's first half strike following a corner proved to be the difference between the two sides as Pools fell to their third straight away defeat in League Two.
The result meant Pools missed the opportunity to climb to second in the table and instead dropped to fifth while Sutton moved out of the relegation zone by securing their second successive victory.
Here are four big talking points from the game...
Dave Challinor made two changes to the side that beat Bristol Rovers with Timi Odusina returning to the left of the back three with Olofela Olomola dropping to the bench and Martin Smith handed his full league debut for the club in Mark Shelton’s absence.
The Pools number 6 suffered a bruised calf on Saturday but is expected to be back involved at Oldham.
His omission prompted a slight change of system with Zaine Francis-Angol moving to a wing-back position and Pools operating with a front three of sorts with Luke Molyneux and Matty Daly playing either side of Will Goodwin.
That left just Nicky Featherstone and Smith up against Sutton’s physical midfield.
David Ferguson returned on the bench after suffering from illness.
Both Ferguson and Shelton were missing when Pools were beaten 3-0 at Sutton back in May. And Tuesday night’s match would unfold in a very similar manner, particularly in the first half.
Under the cosh
After making the lengthy journey down to South London on the day, Pools were under pressure from kick-off. Sutton’s aggressive high tempo approach aimed at winning set-pieces and throw-ins was relentless as Challinor’s side struggled to get a foothold in the game.
Every time Sutton won a throw-in, which happened a lot, it felt like Pools were defending a free-kick as the home side hurled the ball into the penalty area every time. Fortunately, the likes of Gary Liddle and Neill Byrne were alert to mop up the danger.
Shelton’s energy and work-rate in the midfield was sorely missed by Pools as Sutton were able to play through Featherstone and Smith, who were largely anonymous in the opening exchanges.
The rare occasions Pools got their foot on the ball, the midfield pair looked more than capable of moving the ball about with intent but it didn’t happen anywhere near enough as the front line was largely isolated.
It was a case of Pools being bullied by a physically stronger and more experienced team. Combined with a weak referee who dished out Sutton free-kicks as if they were going out of fashion (17 to be exact), it was always going to be an uphill task.
The front line of Tobi Sho-Silva and former Hartlepool loan star Richie Bennett with Enzio Boldewijn and David Ajiboye either side proved to be a real handful in pegging Pools back despite not creating an abundance of clear cut chances.
Hartlepool goalkeeper Ben Killip was equal to the questions asked by Boldewijn and Bennett in the early stages but will have been disappointed with Sutton’s breakthrough on 25-minutes.
For the second away match running, Pools were undone by a set-piece. Rob Milsom’s corner fell to the feet of Goodliffe in the penalty area and the Sutton defender prodded home to give the hosts a deserved lead.
Given the proximity of the ball to Killip’s six yard box, there was a strong case to suggest the Pools keeper should have dealt with the danger before it dropped to Goodliffe.
The goal failed to wake Pools up as they remained under the cosh for large periods in the first half.
Dave Challinor spoke after the game saying he expected his side to have to soak up pressure at Gander Green Lane but he would have wanted more from Pools in possession.
There is a distinct difference between intentionally soaking up pressure and inviting pressure onto you – Pools unfortunately did the latter on too many occasions.
A glimmer of hope
Despite Sutton's first half dominance, Pools had a great chance to go in level at the break as Timi Odusina's header was cleared off the line by Sutton skipper Craig Eastmond.
It was Hartlepool’s first real chance of the game and it would be a sign of slightly better things to come.
Sutton continued to apply pressure after the break but the introduction of Ferguson and Fela Olomola on the hour mark saw the momentum slowly shift in Pools’ favour.
Pools looked more of a threat and were able to get bodies forward. One of Ferguson’s first touches of the ball saw him connect well with Francis-Angol’s cross and force a strong save from Sutton’s Dean Bouzanis, his first of the game.
The energy of Olomola and attacking quality of Ferguson down the left gave Pools a foothold in the game, albeit a laboured one.
Olomola and then Jamie Sterry both came very close to finding an equaliser in the closing stages but it proved to be too little too late for Pools.
A long journey home
To see 251 travelling supporters on a Tuesday night in South London makes the manner of this defeat all the more disappointing.
An outstanding effort that Pools weren’t able to do justice on the pitch. The defeats at Tranmere and Barrow gave the away fans something to cheer and be encouraged by with a positive approach, the same couldn’t be said this time out.
It was a goal away from being a good point. But if you play in the manner Pools did, you have to get that goal or else you end up just looking like a poor side.
The lack of attacking bite always threatened to be an issue in Tyler Burey’s absence, especially with Gavan Holohan also sidelined. Pools need to find a solution quickly and start winning away or else their positive start to the season risks fading into mediocrity.