Four big talking points from Hartlepool United's 2-1 defeat at Blyth Spartans to make it three straight pre-season friendly defeats
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Dave Challinor’s side were beaten 2-1 at Croft Park following goals in either half from Jordan Hickey and JJ O’Donnell which gave the National League North side a 2-0 lead.
A looping header was initially credited to Nicky Featherstone though slow-motion replays suggest it was in fact an own goal following a Pools corner.
On the whole it was another disappointing pre-season outing for Pools – here are four talking points from the match…
Line-up and trialists
Once again, Dave Challinor named a strong Hartlepool starting line-up in a 3-5-2 set-up.
Trialist goalkeeper Shaun MacDonald – formerly of Torquay United and Gateshead – was named in goal with a back three of Timi Odusina, Gary Liddle and an as yet unconfirmed trialist at left centre-back.
Jamie Sterry and David Ferguson took up their usual wing-back positions while Pools’ midfield ‘wolf pack’ of Nicky Featherstone, Mark Shelton and Gavan Holohan had an opportunity to impress. Luke Molyneux played just off trialist striker Caolan Lavery up front.
Lavery has already spent time on trial at League Two side Oldham Athletic this summer following his release from Walsall.
Challinor had intentionally planned for most players to get 90-minutes under their belt at Croft Park with just one change being made during the match. Fela Olomola came on for Holohan just after the hour mark.
That change saw Molyneux drop into a deeper role with Challinor keen to keep the same system in place despite trailing the match.
Mark Cullen was in attendance but watched from the sidelines due to a hamstring injury picked up at Spennymoor Town last Tuesday. Joe Grey was also back warming-up on the grass after a lengthy back injury lay off but wasn’t named on the bench.
Trialists Olly Scott, Adam Smith and Jake Lawlor featured on the bench but none of them got on the pitch.
Those on the bench are set to get a full run-out at Dunston UTS on Friday evening (7pm kick-off).
Promotion hangover continues
Whether it be down to the quick turnaround following promotion, the loss of certain players or something else, Pools haven’t got going this pre-season.
A 9-1 win against eighth tier side Runcorn Linnets aside, Pools’ pre-season has only caused concern ahead of the new League Two campaign on August 7.
No clean sheets and losing to part-time clubs is never a good look whether it’s pre-season or not.
And when you’ve got a win-obsessed manager like Dave Challinor in charge, it only elevates the sense of frustration as he tells things how they are.
Pools have now played and lost to three National League North sides and the most concerning part is that they’ve looked like the lower ranked side certainly against Spennymoor and Gateshead and even at times on Tuesday night.
Everything just seems a bit slow and off the pace, further highlighted by the fact Pools have been wearing two year old home kits showing now defunct Utility Alliance as the club sponsor throughout pre-season.
Problems at both ends
Blyth opened the scoring early on as Lewis McNall set up Hickey to unleash a powerful strike which cannoned in off the underside of the crossbar.
A fine goal from Spartans’ perspective but another disappointing one to concede for Pools as they were once again undone by a simple clipped ball forward and couldn’t get tight enough to the opposition inside the penalty area.
To Hartlepool’s credit, they did respond reasonably well to going behind as Blyth sat back and allowed them to play. Mark Shelton and Molyneux both forced decent saves from goalkeeper Alex Mitchell in the opening 45-minutes.
Pools looked a lot sharper with their passing compared to their previous two outings but the lack of conviction in and around the penalty area remained apparent.
Blyth made plenty of changes in the second half and more than matched Pools fitness wise despite their part-time status.
And the hosts gave Pools a lesson in being ruthless as a fluid counter attacking move started by Hickey released O’Donnell who was able to bring the ball away from Gary Liddle and find the bottom left corner of the goal to make it 2-0.
It was Blyth’s only meaningful effort on goal since the opener but one that confirmed defeat for Pools with 15-minutes remaining.
The visitors did pull a goal back from a corner late on as the ball looped into the Blyth goal after coming off Ben Millburn.
That did little to bring any positives from what was another disappointing pre-season defeat.
Pools desperate for signings
As Challinor was quick to highlight following the full-time whistle, Pools are crying out for reinforcements all over the park. After losing Rhys Oates and Luke Armstrong following promotion, they lack any significant threat up front.
At the back they look a far cry from the watertight back line they formed with Lewis Cass, Gary Liddle and Ryan Johnson last season.
And key players from last season are missing the sharpness they displayed throughout the 2020-21 campaign, even as far back as last pre-season. That is somewhat expected following a 12-month campaign and very little break but Pools can’t afford to be sentimental and carry passengers into League Two.
They need bodies in to improve the side first and foremost but also to add competition for places. There is a distinct lack of competition in goal and up front at the moment and those are two key areas Pools need to address before they host Crawley Town on August 7.
Pre-season or not, the early warning signs are there.