Hartlepool 2-1 Rochdale: The key talking points as Graeme Lee earns first League Two win as Pools manager

Hartlepool United ended their run of five straight defeats in League Two with a dramatic late winner over Rochdale.

Mark Shelton was the stoppage time hero as he stroked the ball home from six yards to complete a second half turnaround and hand Graeme Lee a debut win on home soil.

Josh Andrews had given Dale the lead early in the second half before Mark Cullen expertly finished to draw Pools level nine minutes later as Shelton capped the night late on.

And here are the main talking points from a dramatic night at the Suit Direct Stadium.

Hartlepool United scored a dramatic late winner against Rochdale at the Suit Direct Stadium. Picture by FRANK REID

Setting the scene

While Saturday’s success at Lincoln City was an enjoyable occasion for players, staff and supporters, Wednesday night’s League Two clash with Rochdale under the lights is what everyone had been waiting for.

It had been 5,038 days since Lee last took to the field as a player at the Suit Direct Stadium, as part of a 1-0 defeat to Northampton Town. A lot has happened since then.

But Lee was walking into a slightly precarious situation, despite their FA Cup success at Sincil Bank, with Pools having lost five league games in a row.

It was the perfect start for Graeme Lee at the Suit Direct Stadium. Picture by FRANK REID

Within that run, they had also lost back-to-back games at the Suit Direct Stadium which might have left some supporters concerned their impenetrable home form was about to nose dive.

Team News

Lee insisted prior to Wednesday’s game that everyone in his squad will get an opportunity to prove what they can do.

But the Pools boss found himself in a difficult situation following such an excellent display against League One opposition at the weekend.

Mark Shelton's stoppage time winner ended a run of five straight League Two defeats for Hartlepool United. Picture by FRANK REID

As a result, it meant Lee made just one change to the side who triumphed over the Imps with Reagan Ogle, perhaps unfortunately, the one to miss out as Jamie Sterry returned following his suspension.

Luke Molyneux and Mark Cullen were fit enough to continue up front while Timi Odusina’s impressive cup performances ensured he remained in defence alongside Gary Liddle.

A come from behind win

While any win would have been welcome for Lee, the manner in which they won the game will have been particularly pleasing.

Pools’ record when going behind this season isn’t great having lost 10 of the 12 league games in which they have done so prior to Wednesday night.

Only the home wins over Northampton and Harrogate Town have seen Pools concede the opening goal before coming back to claim any points.

So when Andrews put Rochdale ahead in the 55th minute you would be forgiven for thinking Pools’ chances of three points were slim.

But, Cullen’s swift response followed by Shelton’s late winner handed Pools a priceless win and may well give the team more self belief when going behind in games.

Impact of the substitutes

Lee turned to his bench in the 77th minute to bring on Tom Crawford for Matty Daly and his impact was instant with the midfielder keen to get his foot on the ball and drive Pools up the field with forward thinking passes.

Pools needed that little bit of guidance at that stage of the game before Lee went back to his bench to introduce Joe Grey for Cullen.

Grey’s impact added to Crawford’s with the young striker driving at the Rochdale backline from the second he came onto the field.

He forced a corner and fired over before the two subs linked to release Molyneux in the left channel which led to Pools’ winner.

It will give Lee great confidence he has game changers in his squad when he looks to his bench.

Cullen’s instinct

Pools’ goal scoring issues have been called into question at times this season but Cullen demonstrated why he is the man to lead the line with a real moment of quality for the equaliser.

The 29-year-old’s involvement had been limited for the opening hour before Shelton’s long diagonal caught out Max Taylor.

The striker still had it all to do but his first touch to bring it down over the shoulder of Taylor was sublime and gave him the opportunity to score.

There was just enough weight on his control to allow him to race onto it and slide beyond the keeper.

It was a real moment of quality and just goes to show the striker’s instinct within Cullen.

Something to build on

After five straight League Two defeats, suddenly Pools have won three games in a week - albeit in three different competitions.

It’s been the perfect start to Lee’s tenure and offers hope that November’s results were more down to the disruption at the club as opposed to fears of a prolonged bad run setting in.

Fans cease activity

While Lee has been dreaming of walking out at the Suit Direct Stadium for some time, he was left to do so in front of a somewhat muted crowd following a statement from the Hartlepool United fan group ‘North West Corner.’

The statement was in reference to a section of the Suit Direct Stadium which the club deemed necessary to close off due to health and safety reasons, with the two parties struggling to reach a conclusion over the matter as to where to house that section of supporters.

The North West corner of the ground has been particularly key in generating what is now a hugely reputable atmosphere at the Suit Direct Stadium since the return of supporters.

But the fan group, who issued the statement hours before kick-off, suggested they would cease all of their matchday activity with immediate effect until a solution is found.

Potentially, this is a real setback for both Lee and the players who have thrived in the home atmosphere this season.

If Pools are to lose that for the remainder of the season over such an issue, it could impact results on the field given how often supporters have galvanised the players.

It is a matter which both the club, and supporters, will be keen to resolve.

Hartlepool United XI: Killip, Sterry, Byrne, Liddle, Odusina, Ferguson, Featherstone, Shelton, Daly (Crawford ‘77), Molyneux, Cullen (Grey ‘85)

Subs: Mitchell, Francis-Angol, Ogle,Smith, Holohan

Rochdale XI: Lynch, O’Keeffe, White (Done ‘68), Taylor, O’Connell, Morely, Beesley, Dorsett, Odoh (Cashman ‘68), Andrewss, Kelly

Subs: Mcnulty, Dooley, Grant, Broadbent, Wade

Attendance: 4,214

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