Hartlepool United 2-0 Barnet analysed – what have we learned as Sweeney's perfect start continues
Antony Sweeney is starting to make this management game look pretty easy!
Hartlepool United’s 2-0 win against Barnet at Victoria Park on Saturday made it three wins and three clean sheets from the three matches since Sweeney took caretaker charge.
Pools went into the game on the back of a 3-0 win at Aldershot Town and 1-0 win over Brackley Town in the FA Cup last time out. They came up against a Barnet side two points ahead them in the table knowing a win would take them back into the top half.
There were two changes from the side who beat Brackley as Gavan Holohan and Luke James came in for Josh Hawkes and top scorer Gime Toure, who both dropped to the bench.
The Bees started the game brightly with Cheye Alexander twice coming close in the opening two minutes.
But those early match nerves were soon settled as the decision to start James was vindicated as he played a splitting ball through for Kabamba to slip into the right side of the goal with under seven minutes on the clock.
It was a third consecutive National League goal for the forward and he doubled his tally and Pools’ advantage just before the half-hour mark as he wrapped up a good move with a clinical finish.
A ruthless move involving Ryan Donaldson, Nicky Featherstone and Holohan saw Donaldson fouled on the edge of the penalty area as he played the ball into Kabamba. Referee Daniel Middleton played a good advantage to allow the striker to curl in his second of the game past Scott Loach.
Since former manager Craig Hignett was charged by the FA, Pools have been blessed with some solid refereeing performances and coincidentally won four of their last five matches.
Kabamba would get a couple of chances to grab his hat-trick in the second half but was twice denied by two fine stops from the former Hartlepool goalkeeper.
Pools had been comfortable since taking an early lead but the result was practically confirmed after 64-minutes when Barnet’s Jack Taylor was shown a second yellow card for a foul on Peter Kioso.
The home side had a few chances to make the scoreline more convincing but were denied by a spirited Loach. Substitute Toure almost netted another fine solo goal as he wriggled his way into space before seeing his bending effort tipped over.
The Frenchman’s omission from the starting XI may have taken some by surprise. But his form had started to dip slightly in recent weeks and his goalscoring return was just two in 11 going into the match.
He needed a rest and his introduction for the final 15-minutes was not only well timed but seemed to give him a fresh spring in his step.
Overall, it was a comfortable and assured display from Hartlepool, who never looked in danger of failing to win.
After being named man of the match for the two previous matches, goalkeeper Ben Killip had a pleasingly quiet afternoon with just one notable save late on.
You’d struggle to find a single average performance in the Pools side as everyone pressed well and made a decent Barnet outfit look short of ideas in comparison.
Kabamba will get the plaudits for his brace and rightly so, but the unsung hero of the afternoon was undoubtedly Featherstone.
The midfielder was everywhere and everything just worked for him. Whether it was a pass, tackle or interception, he was at the heart of everything Pools did well – arguably his finest performance in a Pools shirt to date.
And it was arguably Pools’ finest performance of the season so far as well. The only gripe would be that they didn’t win by a bigger margin.
It’s exactly what they needed after two slightly fortuitous victories over Aldershot and Brackley. Sweeney and the side showed that this mini-run hasn’t been a fluke, any doubts that the team were capable of delivering a dominant 90-minute display under the United caretaker were answered.
They’ve learned from their shortcomings of the previous two matches and adopted a clear game plan which worked a treat. They pressed at the right times, allowing Barnet possession in areas where they were unlikely to threaten while setting up to be very dangerous in transition.
In three games, Sweeney has managed to lead the side to their longest clean sheet run since 2016 as well as their biggest win of the campaign so far.
Pools are still weighing up their options – former Fylde manager Dave Challinor is believed to be one of several interviewed for the post this week and is emerging as the most likely successor to Hignett as permanent manager despite not being in attendance on Saturday.
It’s important they appoint the right person for the job and they don’t have to rush the decision. But what if that person is right under their nose?
Sweeney could be the answer, we simply don’t know. It’s three games, he’s got nothing to lose as caretaker and things could quickly change if he were to be given the job permanently as the weight of pressure and expectation soon take effect.
Credit where credit is due as he certainly talks a good game and more importantly backs it up with a meticulous and proactive style of management as well as results.
Whether it’s now or later down the line, he’s certainly got the makings of a very good manager. Should someone come in, their ideal coach or assistant is ready and waiting.