Four big talking points from Hartlepool United's 2-2 draw at King's Lynn Town – formation switch, sloppy goals and standards being raised as Pools remain second in the National League
Hartlepool United remain second in the National League table following Tuesday night’s 2-2 draw at King’s Lynn Town.
It’s the third successive draw for Pools and one they feel they should have won late on despite twice coming from behind.
Goals from Luke Armstrong and Rhys Oates in either half cancelled out Kairo Mitchell and Michael Gyasi’s first half strikes for the hosts.
Hartlepool pushed for a winner in the closing stages but King’s Lynn defended resolutely to hang on for a hard earned point.
Here are the four big talking points from the match…
After drawing 0-0 with 10-men against Eastleigh at Victoria Park on Saturday, Pools went with a virtually unchanged approach at The Walks on Tuesday evening.
Ryan Johnson came into the side in the place of the suspended Timi Odusina as the only change made by manager Dave Challinor.
Jamie Sterry started the game despite minor doubts over his fitness as Hartlepool once again lined-up with a 3-5-2 set-up.
Tom White and Nicky Featherstone occupied holding midfield roles alongside each other. Mark Shelton was given license to push forward while Luke Molyneux played just off Luke Armstrong up front.
Captain Ryan Donaldson returned to the bench after a spell out with a foot injury. Regular substitute Mason Bloomfield made the journey but was not selected to be part of the match day squad – a tactical decision by Challinor.
Playing three centre-backs has previously worked wonders for Pools as the switch saw the side go on a remarkable run around the turn of the year as they shot up the league table.
When it works, it’s a tactical masterclass. When it doesn’t, it’s viewed as too negative.
And it didn’t go according to plan this time at King’s Lynn.
A double blow
After 16-minutes of decent tempo but minimal conviction from Pools, The Linnets took the lead against the run of play.
A long ball forward from the back was picked up by Mitchell, who found himself with acres of space. Killip rushed out of his goal only for the King’s Lynn man to delicately chip the ball over his head from 20-yards.
A lovely finish which trickled helplessly over the goal line to give the hosts the lead.
Following the goal, King’s Lynn looked the more likely side to double their advantage as Pools couldn’t keep hold of the ball.
The deep midfield partnership of Featherstone and White was leaving Pools’ attacking players crowded out and isolated through the middle.
But the visitors were able to have some success out wide as David Ferguson’s low cross to the front post was poked in by Luke Armstrong for his 10th of the campaign.
From there, the expectation was for Pools to kick on, take the game by the scruff of the neck and get a second.
A second goal came, but not at the end they wanted. On the stroke of half-time, a scramble in the Pools penalty area which saw a fine save from Killip, eventually fell to Gyasi who turned in from close range.
King’s Lynn had a 2-1 lead at the break and something needed to change for Pools.
The attacking introduction of Rhys Oates for defender Jake Cooper and a switch to a 4-3-3 set-up made a big difference for Pools in the second half.
It brought directness, pace, purpose and, most crucially, the equalising goal. Pools had been lively since the restart and Oates rose highest to nod in Featherstone’s corner and bring Pools level. 2-2.
It was the forward’s sixth goal in his last 16 appearances (12 starts), only Armstrong has scored more for Pools this season.
His all action, high intensity play-style may prevent him from starting every week, but he should have started this one. His pace and energy caused all sorts of problems down the left side – it was just lacking the final shot or ball.
In a 3-5-2, Oates is the ideal partner for Armstrong up front. Torquay aside, the Armstrong and Molyneux experiment hasn’t really worked out so far for Pools’ front line.
But with three up top, everyone looked more comfortable and knew what their roles were.
Pools pushed for a winner with substitute Gavan Holohan coming close and Ryan Johnson heading wide but they were left frustrated as the match ended 2-2.
Raising the bar
The audible cheers from the King’s Lynn contingency at full-time told you who the happier side were at full-time.
And why shouldn’t they be? They’re a part-time club with 12 first team players out, playing a side mostly made up of reserve players and loanees (including man of the match goalkeeper Theo Richardson on loan from Cleethorpes) and have won just one of their last 11 games which was against a Barnet side in dire straits. They’ve come up against second in the league and secured a point.
The Linnets deserved to celebrate that one, but Pools need to stop dropping points.
We can point to good character and determination to come back twice, but that alone doesn't get you promoted. Wins do.
Previously, going unbeaten in eight with two defeats in 16 would be seen as a big positive for United – and it is. God knows they haven’t had many decent runs in recent years.
By Hartlepool standards, they’ve been brilliant. By promotion standards, they’re a work in progress.
It’s now one win in five, leaving Sutton United six points clear with three games in hand at the top of the table.
And finishing second in the National League won’t get you promoted either.
As difficult to beat as Hartlepool are proving to be, they need to be ruthless and start turning the draws into wins – starting against Woking at Victoria Park this weekend.
The bar has been raised. Pools should be judged not based on what has gone previously, but as the title challengers they aspire to be.