Four big talking points from Hartlepool United's 0-0 draw at Wrexham – penalty woe and away frustrations continue

Hartlepool United lost ground in their battle for promotion following a 0-0 draw at Wrexham on Tuesday night – here are the four big talking points from the game.

Wednesday, 24th February 2021, 12:30 pm

Rotation

Dave Challinor made two changes from Saturday’s 2-1 win over Yeovil Town for the trip to the Racecourse Ground.

As expected, Jamie Sterry returned at right-back in place of captain Ryan Donaldson with Gary Liddle handed the armband for the evening.

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Meanwhile, Joe Grey was a surprise starter of sorts following two impressive displays off the bench in the past week.

The 17-year-old scored his first league goal at Eastleigh last Tuesday and brilliantly assisted the winner at The Vic on Saturday afternoon.

He was handed only his second National League start as he came in for Rhys Oates up front. Explaining the change, Challinor pointed to Oates’ performance data in recent matches being slightly below the high standards that he had set previously – not to mention Grey’s recent impact when coming off the bench.

The youngster was typically lively and tried to get the better of Wrexham’s defence on a number of occasions but was often left frustrated. Oates’ introduction for Grey after the hour mark helped give Pools more structure and focus in the final third as they pushed for a breakthrough.

The Racecourse Ground, Wrexham. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)

Before the game, Hartlepool’s strength in depth was clearly highlighted as Nicky Featherstone, Luke Molyneux, Luke Williams and Henrich Ravas warmed up despite not being involved in the matchday squad.

There are various reasons for that but those are four players who, when fit, would get in the starting line-up of most National League and even some League Two sides at the moment.

The fact that Pools are in a position to leave them out entirely and still field a strong line-up and bench speaks volumes with Challinor admitting the squad at the moment is the strongest it has been since he arrived at the club 15 months ago.

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Hartlepool United's Luke Armstrong celebrates after scoring to make it 1-1 during the Vanarama National League match between Hartlepool United and Yeovil Town at Victoria Park, Hartlepool on Saturday 20th February 2021. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

Deja Vu

Pools hosted Wrexham at Victoria Park on a Tuesday night back in November. They controlled that game and created numerous chances to win but were hit by a sucker punch out of the blue as The Dragons claimed a 1-0 victory.

With the exception of a Wrexham goal, things played out in a very similar fashion at the Racecourse Ground on Tuesday.

Pools set the tone early on with Mark Shelton – who has been brilliant in Featherstone’s absence – striking the post with a volleyed effort from close range.

Jamie Sterry also forced a simple save from Wrexham goalkeeper Christian Dibble in what proved to be Hartlepool’s only shot on target in the match.

The visitors created numerous half chances throughout the evening with the ball flashing across the Wrexham goal several times with no player able to find the crucial touch.

At the other end, there was very little action as it took Wrexham until the second half to win their first corner of the game and they failed to register a single shot on target.

Pools’ best chance of the game came 56-minutes in as in-form striker Luke Armstrong broke free of the Wrexham defence and charged toward goal. With eight goals in 11 matches for Pools so far, there was no player you’d rather have with a one on one opportunity but this one was frustratingly squandered by the Salford City loanee.

A slightly angled effort 15-yards from goal with just the goalkeeper to beat and Armstrong curls it high and wide of the goal when almost everyone in the ground expected the net to bulge.

It wasn’t to be and the 24-year-old found himself apologising to his teammates afterwards for the miss. Given the number of points he’s helped Pools win already this season, I think they’ll forgive him for that one!

Penalty Woe

Pools’ frustrations reached boiling point after 77-minutes as Oates was fouled right on the edge of the penalty area by Wrexham’s Luke Young.

At first glance, the foul looked to be just inside the penalty area and there was an expectation that the referee would point to the spot.

But when Jacob Miles awarded a free-kick to Pools, there was a brief stunned silence followed by outrage from the Hartlepool bench as they felt they had been denied a stone wall spot kick.

Challinor admitted afterwards that the referee told him that the foul was committed on the line of the penalty area which only added to the confusion as, by the letter of the law, that should result in a penalty kick.

Wrexham knew they’d got away with one and it was a decision that denied Hartlepool a huge chance of claiming a much-needed victory on the road.

Away Form

A positive performance aside, it’s now one win in eight away from home for Hartlepool. As good as their home form is, things need to improve away from Victoria Park in order for the side to mount a serious promotion challenge in the second half of the campaign.

They could and should have closed the gap at the top of the table with three points at the Racecourse Ground. Instead they remain third in the table with Sutton three points ahead of them with two games in hand and leaders Torquay now moving seven points clear having played a game more.

In football, matches tend to balance out in the end. Pools didn’t really deserve to win on Saturday against Yeovil but they found a way – they put in an improved performance at Wrexham and should have won but came away with a frustrating draw.

It’s still a point in the right direction and that draw at Wrexham becomes a pretty solid one if they can sandwich it between two home wins.

Now they look ahead to ending the BT Sport curse against Barnet on Saturday (5:20pm kick-off) ahead of crucial trips to Halifax Town and Torquay the following week.

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