Hartlepool United 2-2 Barrow report and analysis as Dave Challinor's side come fight back twice to earn point against National League leaders
Just two days after being soundly beaten at Harrogate Town, Hartlepool United responded with a 2-2 draw at home to league leaders Barrow.
After a goalless first half, Pools twice came from behind after gifting Barrow the lead to snatch a hard earned point at Victoria Park.
Despite the draw, Dave Challinor’s side have now dropped to 15th in the National League table, seven points clear of the relegation zone and five points off the final play-off place.
Challinor has made it clear that he won’t put up with mediocrity or coasters at Pools and that was clear when the team was announced an hour prior to kick-off.
He made five changes from the Boxing Day humbling at Harrogate Town as Fraser Kerr, Kenton Richardson, Gavan Holohan, Mark Shelton and Nicke Kabamba came in for Mark Kitching, Michael Raynes, Josh Hawkes, Gus Mafuta and Tyler Hamilton in what was a bold shift of personnel by the Pools manager.
Kitching, Raynes and Mafuta had started every league match since the opening week of the season prior to this match as the significant changes to the line-up would hopefully yield a significantly improved result compared with their previous outing.
The change in personnel also meant a change in formation as the side shifted to a 3-5-2 formation opposed to the previously favoured 4-3-3.
Barrow arrived at Victoria Park as National League leaders with two games in hand on second placed Yeovil Town.
United could take some confidence in the fact they won the reverse fixture 1-0 thanks to a Ryan Donaldson goal back in September.
Anyone who witnessed that match at Holker Street will know how much Pools rode their luck and came away with the win largely down to some backs to the wall defending and excellent goalkeeping from Ben Killip. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen enough performances like that from United this season.
But plenty has changed since then. Pools victory nine games into the season moved them seven points clear of the Bluebirds who sat in the relegation zone at the time. Yet for the final match of 2019, Ian Evatt’s side went into it 13 points ahead of United in the table with a game in hand.
It’s a fairly big gap in terms of points but the National League can often prove to be a leveller and things were certainly pretty even during the opening exchanges.
Both sides had chances without testing the opposing goalkeeper as Barrow’s John Rooney curled wide from 20-yards in front of the Town End.
Gime Toure then set up a golden chance for the hosts just moments later as his dinked cross was glanced wide by Ryan Donaldson just as Gavan Holohan looked set to turn it in at the far post.
Plenty of intent was being shown as the game was shaping up to be an interesting National League encounter with both teams desperate to win for different reasons.
Hartlepool needed redemption from their 4-1 Boxing Day defeat at Harrogate while Barrow knew they could take advantage of Yeovil’s surprise defeat at Sutton United and potentially move three points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand.
But as the first half wore on, neither side were able to lay down the gauntlet and take control of proceedings as a scrappy, stop start affair started to unfold.
Pools’ change in formation was countering Barrow’s similar set-up reasonably well as Ben Killip had little to do in the opening 45-minutes.
Still things started to get heated as referee Joe Hull made a succession of decisions against the hosts as the home fans quickly became agitated.
Pools had the better of the chances before the break but were still failing to test Joel Dixon in the Barrow goal. Nicky Featherstone and Mark Shelton both drilled shots clear of the woodwork from outside the area as the sides went in goalless at the break.
After collapsing in the second half at Harrogate, Pools needed to avoid doing the same again.
But less than a minute after the restart disaster struck as Lewis Hardcastle’s strike from distance was too hot to handle for Ben Killip who parried the ball into the top left corner of the goal to give Barrow a 1-0 lead.
It was the first goal Pools had conceded at Victoria Park in almost 300-minutes of football and what a disappointing one it was.
Teams never really have to outplay Pools to score against them, they just apply a bit of pressure and wait for them to slip up and that’s exactly what Harrogate and now Barrow have done in the last two matches.
But unlike Harrogate, Pools responded well to going behind this time out at The Vic as less than 10-minutes later, they were level.
On his return to the starting line-up, Holohan picked up Featherstone’s pass and arrowed a low strike into the bottom left corner from 25-yards. It was the midfielder’s fifth goal in his last six starts but his first at Victoria Park in that period.
The goal lifted the crowd and lifted United even more as they pushed to take the lead and started to take the game to Barrow.
Peter Kioso tested Dixon, Shelton struck just wide and Liddle nodded over all in quick succession as the score crucially remained 1-1.
And just a few minutes later, Pools would be made to rue their missed chances as a simple ball over the top was controlled by Dior Angus inside the penalty area as the Barrow forward slotted calmly past Killip to restore the visitors’ lead.
It was once again far too easy for the Bluebirds as Angus was completely unchallenged inside the area as the Pools defence were caught ball watching.
But again, Barrow had the lead for less than 10-minutes before Pools responded as Donaldson’s header from Holohan’s cross creeped into the right side of the goal to make it 2-2 and set up an interesting final 15-minutes.
As the game drew to a close, Barrow had a great chance to grab a winner as another over the top ball left Pools exposed at the back. Thankfully Kioso was in the right place to execute a perfectly timed challenge to rescue the home side.
Barrow’s Brad Barry then dragged a shot wide in stoppage time as Pools were just about able to hang on for a point. And on the run of play as a whole, neither side could have too many complaints though Hartlepool may feel slightly more disappointed after gifting their opponents a couple of goals once again.
The match proved that despite the considerable point difference between the teams, there’s no real gulf in class or quality.
Pools are as good as any side in the National League from a technical perspective – they just don’t seem to be as clever or focused as many of the teams they come up against with the errors they make often proving costly.
Under Challinor, when Pools have won matches, they’ve thoroughly deserved to do so. The ability to take the lead and grind out results despite not playing well is a trait Pools will have to acquire if they want to start moving up the table and into play-off contention.