Hartlepool United 1-0 Brackley Town FA Cup fourth qualifying round analysed – job done as Antony Sweeney secures place in first round draw
It’s back to back wins and back to back clean sheets for Hartlepool United under Antony Sweeney – but things are far from perfect.
But were they ever going to be?
Antony Sweeney has came in as caretaker manager under fairly difficult circumstances and steadied the ship admirably to relieve the pressure and give Pools time to make their next permanent appointment.
The performances have left a lot to be desired, Sweeney is the first to recognise that, but football is a results business and in that respect things couldn’t be better.
Saturday’s match at Victoria Park saw United scrape into the first round proper of the FA Cup with a 1-0 win over National League North side Brackley Town.
If you get the result, the performance is soon forgotten about but the reality is that Pools were second best for the majority of the tie.
It was the first ever competitive meeting between the sides so Brackley were something of an unknown quantity in that respect but they were quick to make their presence known at The Vic.
The visitors created the majority of the early chances with Carl Baker getting into a great position inside the penalty area only to be denied by an in form Ben Killip in the Pools goal.
Killip was by far the busier of the two goalkeepers during the match as he was called into action numerous times. The England C international’s form over the past few weeks – going back as far as his penalty save at Eastleigh – has been excellent.
United still created some half chances with Michael Raynes heading over from a corner while Peter Kioso fired in a couple of dangerous crosses from the right to no avail.
With the score goalless at the break, words were exchanged at half-time and Sweeney did get a reaction of sorts as his side displayed a bit more energy after the break.
Still, Brackley remained a threat as Glenn Walker’s effort crashed back off the left hand post before James Armson’s rebound was tipped over brilliantly by Killip.
That was probably the last time the Pools stopper was properly called into action. While Brackley continued to get into some dangerous areas, their final ball or shot always made it easy for Killip in between the sticks.
Chances had been few and far between for Pools but just after the hour mark they were the ones to break the deadlock.
Nicky Featherstone’s quick free-kick found Ryan Donaldson who turned and fired speculatively towards goal. The Hartlepool skipper’s low 30-yard strike took a nick on its way into the goal with Brackley goalkeeper Danny Lewis getting a hand to it but couldn’t stop the ball nestling in the bottom right corner of the goal.
Much like Aldershot last weekend, it proved to be a case of Pools riding their luck and taking their chances when it mattered.
Once they had the lead, United were able to see the game out with little fuss. Nicke Kabamba could have wrapped the game up late on but saw his effort saved by Lewis.
Brackley valiantly tried to force a replay but it was to no avail as Sweeney’s perfect spell as caretaker manager continued.
It’s the first time this season Pools have kept a clean sheet at Victoria Park as well as the first time they’ve managed to go back to back games without conceding.
They made hard work of it but secured their place in the first round draw on Monday night (7:15pm)
Although Brackley have never played higher than the level they’re currently at, they’re far from the lower league minnows some might paint them out to be.
This is a side who have finished third in an incredibly competitive National League North division in each of the last two seasons. They went toe to toe with Salford City and Harrogate Town in 2017-18 while also claiming the FA Trophy title at Wembley.
It was always going to be a tricky tie given the Saints would be well up for the game but it’s just a case of job done for Sweeney and Hartlepool in the end.
At this point, the easy option would be to give Sweeney the job on a permanent basis as he’s done brilliantly under the circumstances but it’s clear that such a decision would be very premature.
With Sweeney getting the results, Pools have the luxury of time and being able to properly assess their options and conduct the appropriate due diligence on the potential candidates – of which Sweeney remains one.
The 36-year-old has tweaked things slightly with a change of formation since taking over from Craig Hignett. The 4-3-3 formation has allowed Pools to get more bodies forward and threaten in attack while not compromising themselves too much defensively.
Other than that, things are very much the same performance wise. The only difference is that Pools are now getting the results.
It was hardly terrible under Hignett, it was just a case of a few small tweaks being made and getting a bit more of the rub of the green.
It’s evident that Sweeney’s management is cut from the same cloth as Hignett and that may not wash well with everyone.
The results have picked up but it was never going to be an overnight transformation. This team has potential, it just needs the right person to unlock it.