Hartlepool United 0-0 Eastleigh analysis: Referee and red card take centre stage as a lack of goals poses a threat to Pools' promotion credentials
In a game of few chances between Hartlepool United and Eastleigh, it was the referee who took centre stage at Victoria Park.
Eight bookings, including two for Pools defender Timi Odusina, saw the hosts play a large portion of the match with 10-men once again as it ended 0-0.
While United manager Dave Challinor had few complaints with Lewis Cass’ red card at Altrincham on Tuesday night, he was left seething with referee Andrew Kitchen’s decisions on Saturday afternoon.
Neither side registered a meaningful shot on target during the match with the result seeing Hartlepool remain second in the National League table with their third draw in four matches.
Dave Challinor’s side went into the game looking for a ninth straight home win for the first time in 14 years.
Since Pools were beaten 2-1 by Eastleigh at the Silverlake Stadium last month, the side had gone on a six game unbeaten run with three wins and three draws ahead of Saturday’s reverse fixture.
Challinor made four changes from his side who drew 1-1 at Altrincham on Tuesday night. Jamie Sterry returned at right wing-back while Tom White was back in the starting line-up following confirmation of his loan extension from Blackburn Rovers.
Midfielder Tom Crawford and forward Rhys Oates dropped to the bench as a result.
Meanwhile, Odusina came in for the suspended Lewis Cass while Rotherham United loanee Jake Cooper was handed his debut in place of the injured Ryan Johnson.
An even start to the game saw Hartlepool midfielder Mark Shelton have shot blocked before dragging one wide shortly afterwards.
Luke Molyneux, confident from previous displays at Torquay United and Altrincham, looked a threat once again but lacked any end product in the opening stages as he scuffed a good chance wide after 15-minutes.
Eastleigh posed a bit more of a threat as the half wore on with Tom Blair scooping over the crossbar from close range following a corner.
But that was as good as it got for either side in the opening 45 as they went in goalless at the break.
The most action packed the first half got was when Odusina tangled with Eastleigh's Tom Blair – prompting tempers to flare.
Spitfires forward Ben House confronted the Pools defender who reacted angrily to Blair allegedly stepping on his leg, exclaiming ‘watch it back’ to the referee and raising his hands to push House away.
Unfortunately for Odusina, VAR doesn’t exist in the National League as he was cautioned along with house.
It was an unnecessary booking and one the Pools defender would live to regret as just seconds into the second half, he was shown a second yellow card for an adjudged foul on Ryan Hill.
The decision left the 21-year-old stunned as any contact he made with the Spitfires’ man appeared to be minimal. An ‘absolute nonsense’ call according to Challinor but one which would significantly hinder Pools’ chances of winning.
After starting with their favoured 3-5-2 formation, Pools shifted to a 4-4-1 following the sending off as Shelton was sacrificed for Oates to occupy the left flank.
With a man advantage, Eastleigh sensed their opportunity to go for the win in the second half and started to push bodies forward.
Ryan Hill, Sam Smart and Dan Smith all had decent opportunities on goal for the visitors but they failed to test Ben Killip in the Pools goal. A tame effort from Tyrone Barnett proved to be the Spitfires’ only effort on goal.
The new-look partnership of Cooper and Gary Liddle at the heart of defence was proving effective at keeping Eastleigh at bay.
Another new pairing in Tom White and Nicky Featherstone helped Pools keep somewhat of a foothold in the game despite their numerical disadvantage.
Neither side had really looked like scoring, but late on Pools almost snatched all three points with two very good opportunities.
In the final minute of normal time, Cooper headed just wide at the near post from David Ferguson’s corner. And deep into stoppage time, Oates broke through on goal before seeing his deflected cross clawed away by Joe McDonnall in the Eastleigh goal.
“He has to shoot," Challinor said following the goalless draw. “You have to be selfish in those positions. I can guarantee Luke Armstrong would have shot.”
And perhaps in that lies Pools’ problem. A lack of goals recently has been masked by generally positive results and a solid clean sheet record of six in their last 10 matches.
Red cards aside, Pools have been excellent defensively in recent weeks and that’s no small part down to the return of Liddle to the starting line-up.
It bodes well going into the final 14 matches of the campaign that Pools are looking like a very hard team to beat even when they’re up against it.
The standards have been raised to such a degree that draws with 10 men are now been seen as points dropped rather than the solid points that they are.
These draws could prove crucial in helping Pools clinch a play-off place but will ultimately hinder their chances of achieving anything more than that.
And when Armstrong isn’t scoring – the striker now has three goals in his last 11 matches – who else can step up and take responsibility?
Oates could be that man, as could Molyneux, but neither have demonstrated enough consistency in front of goal to fill you with confidence.
Perhaps new blood is required. Challinor did suggest as much after the game with a ‘pacey striker’ high on the agenda.
It would certainly help ease the burden on Pools’ frontmen and give the side something different in the final third.
And with Sutton United now four points clear at the top of the table with three games in hand and Torquay United, Wrexham and Stockport breathing down their neck – Pools would take any further help they can get.