Hartlepool United 0-0 AFC Wimbledon: Pools earn first point of Paul Hartley era in home draw

Paul Hartley said he does not want to see his side put in a performance the like again after their season opening defeat at Walsall, and there were certainly improvements here despite being held to a goalless draw by AFC Wimbledon.

By Joe Ramage
Saturday, 6th August 2022, 5:33 pm
Nicky Featherstone in action for Hartlepool United against AFC Wimbledon. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)
Nicky Featherstone in action for Hartlepool United against AFC Wimbledon. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

It was a baptism of fire in his first game as a manager in English football which left Hartley ‘shocked’ a week ago.

But upon their return to the Suit Direct Stadium we got a glimpse of the potential in Pools this season against a good side in Wimbledon.

Hartley admitted in the week he would not be subject to a knee-jerk reaction following the eye-opening defeat at Walsall.

And the Pools boss was true to his word on the team sheet with only two changes as full-back Jamie Sterry and on loan defender Rollin Menayese came into the side in place of Reghan Tumilty and Sunderland loanee Ellis Taylor.

The real change came in the formation as Pools switched to three centre-backs with Sterry and David Ferguson in the wing-back roles to combat the Wimbledon threat.

Callum Cooke and Jake Hastie flanked in the attacking thirds behind Josh Umerah who led the line once more.

And Umerah was straight into the action from the kick-off bustling his way down the left up against the experienced Alex Pearce.

The former Wealdstone man won an early free-kick for Pools which was taken quickly by Cooke only for Sterry’s cross to be well gathered by Nik Tzanev.

It was certainly the kind of fast start Hartley will have been hoping for from his players in their first home game of the season with the crowd responding in kind.

Hartley’s philosophy of building from the back was on show when Euan Murray found the feet of Umerah who was able to turn Will Nightingale and link up well with Hastie before the final ball just evaded Ferguson who had carried on his run down the left.

And that was kind of the story for Pools in the opening 45 minutes as they got into a number of decent positions, either by their own play or forcing Wimbledon into errors through a high press, but the final ball just escaped them.

And while Pools enjoyed plenty of the possession in the first half it was the visitors who ended the opening 45 the stronger.

Pools invited Lee Brown into an advanced area to fire from distance at Ben Killip who fumbled and was grateful to Murray who turned the rebound behind for a corner.

Ayoub Assal brought a smart stop from Killip at his near post after skipping by Menayese to the byline before Killip was called into action again to deny George Marsh’ clever back-heel inside six yards.

Johnnie Jackson’s side started the brighter after the break with Nightingale forcing Killip into a save low to his left from a free-kick.

But Hartley’s side found their stride on the hour when Hastie was able to skip by Brown on the byline and he got two bites at a cross which ping-ponged around the penalty area before being put behind for a corner.

The resulting corner was recycled before Umerah’s header brought a point-blank stop from Tzanev in the Wimbledon goal.

Hastie and Cooke dispossessed Ethan Chislett in midfield to force a three-on-three situation moments later but the former Bradford City man forced Hastie a little wider than he would have liked with his pass as his effort was diverted behind.

The visitors looked to have taken the sting out of things before Pools came agonisingly close to a late winner through the unlikely source of Murray.

Murray found space on the left and fired one at goal which took a slight deflection before coming back off the angle of post and bar with Tzanev beaten as Pools were forced to settle for a point in the home opener.