Hartlepool United 1-0 Bristol Rovers verdict: A tough but refreshing three points for Pools after disjointed display
“If we don't perform well we have to make sure we’re able to pick up a jammy three points.”
It’s almost as if it were his plan all along as Pools looked off the pace at times on Saturday afternoon but were still able to come away with the all important three points thanks to Jamie Sterry’s first goal for the club.
Arguably Pools’ most satisfying win of the new season coincided with their worst performance since securing promotion.
But after an excellent display at Tranmere Rovers saw them on the receiving end of a 1-0 defeat, it was refreshing to see the tables turn in Pools’ favour.
Ultimately, Challinor’s side found a way to win against a side who, despite a poor start, will fancy themselves to compete for promotion this season having dropped from League One.
And the best home form in the country (we’ll enjoy this while it lasts) continued as it’s now 18 wins from 20 league games at The Vic for Pools. It’s actually quite ridiculous the more you think about it.
But they went into the game with a slightly depleted squad with Challinor admitting his side were without their three ‘most potent attacking threats’ in the form of top scorer Tyler Burey, second top scorer Gavan Holohan and last season’s top creator David Ferguson.
Burey’s 12-week injury lay-off handed Fela Olomola an opportunity to impress up front
Matty Daly was also handed his first league start in place of the injured Holohan while Luke Molyneux came back into the side in an unorthodox left wing-back position in Ferguson’s absence due to illness.
On the bench, there was a welcome return for Joe Grey as he appeared in a matchday squad for the first time since February after recovering from a stress fracture in his back.
New signing Eddy Jones was also handed a spot on the bench as one of Pools’ seven substitutes.
And the hosts got off to an awkward start to life without Burey as they lacked any real bite going forward. Ferguson’s absence down the left was also felt as, unlike last week, crosses into the box did not have enough quality to threaten.
Instead, players such as Gary Liddle and Nicky Featherstone were being dragged out wide in order to try and work the ball into the penalty area. It was far less efficient and ineffective.
Even the usually reliable Sterry was struggling to put crosses in with any form of accuracy.
And for the first time this season, Pools’ tried and tested 3-5-2 set-up didn’t seem to be working as a stubborn Bristol Rovers side set themselves up to frustrate.
Pools’ only shot on target in the first half saw the ball fall nicely to Mark Shelton on the edge of the area as the Pools midfielder’s half-volleyed effort was parried awkwardly by Rovers goalkeeper James Belshaw.
Hartlepool developed a reputation as a high-pressing entertaining side in the National League and they’ve been able to continue that since stepping up into League Two.
But that side of their game was lacking against Joey Barton’s team, who took until first half stoppage time to register their first shot on target in the game.
It was a game low on quality and entertainment as the sides went in goalless at the break. Bristol hadn’t won away from home since last December while Pools had only dropped points twice at The Vic in that time.
In years gone by, this would have spelled a scrappy 1-0 defeat for Pools. But this time it was Hartlepool who out scrapped the scrappers to come out on top.
A change of shape to a 4-3-3 in the second half worked in Pools’ favour as they were were more of a threat in the final third with Molyneux moving over to the right wing.
And shortly after the restart, Olomola picked out Will Goodwin inside the penalty area but the Stoke City loanee failed to connect properly as Belshaw collected.
In the 63rd-minute, a swift attacking move from Pools saw Belshaw thwart the hosts yet again as he tipped over Olomola’s 20-yard effort.
At this point, the home side were finally starting to gather momentum play some football.
And their breakthrough finally came after 70-minutes as Sterry pounced on some hesitant defending to burst into the box, play a neat one-two with Goodwin and stroke the ball in with his left foot.
That would be enough to secure the three points as Pools changed their shape once again in order to hang on to the 1-0 win. A fine last-ditch tackle from Zaine Francis-Angol and a far post block from Ben Killip were enough to keep the hosts’ clean sheet intact.
The result sees Pools climb up to fourth in the League Two table with a game in hand on Tuesday night that could see them up to second should they win at Sutton United.
There were plenty of doubts and concerns after a tough pre-season and underwhelming transfer window for Pools.
But they’ve shown that they are more than capable of holding their own in League Two so far with 12 points out of a possible 18.
And after some impressive performances in the opening month of the season, they have now shown their ability to win even when they’re not at their best by out battling rather than out playing their opponents.
It’s the hallmark of any good side.