Hartlepool United 2-4 Maidenhead United verdict: Pools down but not out following first home defeat of 2021
Hartlepool was a town full of surprises this week.
A first Conservative MP in 47-years was quickly followed up by Hartlepool United's first home defeat in over five months as they were beaten 4-2 by 10-man Maidenhead United on Saturday.
Pools had been in remarkable form at Victoria Park, winning 12 and drawing one of their last 13 at home looking to bounce back from the bank holiday Monday defeat at Bromley – the side’s first defeat in 17.
Still with an outside chance of the title, this was a must win game for Pools. Instead they uncharacteristically crumbled and the mistakes crept back in.
An early Danilo Orsi strike was cancelled out by a genuine goal of the season contender from Rhys Oates before Sam Barratt hit a hat-trick for the visitors.
In the meantime, Maidenhead were reduced to 10-men as Ryheem Sheckleford was shown a straight red card.
But it didn’t make much difference in terms of the end result as only a late Danny Elliott header stopped the scoreline looking overly embarrassing for Hartlepool.
After Monday’s defeat, Dave Challinor was left with several selection problems.
Suspension to Gary Liddle ruled him out while Lewis Cass, Ryan Johnson, David Ferguson, Harvey Saunders and Luke Armstrong were listed as doubts.
Ferguson, Saunders and Johnson were passed fit to start while Cass returned on the bench. Armstrong missed out entirely but is expected to be back in contention at Aldershot Town next weekend.
There were three changes to the side in total with Johnson coming back in for Liddle, Rhys Oates replacing Armstrong and Luke Molyneux returning in place of captain Ryan Donaldson, who dropped to the bench.
The changes also prompted a change in formation from 3-5-2 to 4-3-3 – a switch that would arguably prove fatal.
An early set back
A frantic start to the game saw both sides test the goalkeepers early on but the first big chance came after just seven minutes.
A sloppy pass from Timi Odusina gifted Maidenhead possession in a dangerous area as Orsi picked up the ball inside the Pools penalty area. The Magpies top scorer had time and space but squandered a great opportunity as he scooped the ball over the crossbar from 15-yards.
Less than 10-minutes later, Orsi was handed a second chance that this time he would take after finding space in the Hartlepool penalty area. The Maidenhead forward didn’t mess around as he calmly stroked the ball past Henrich Ravas to give the visitors an early lead.
Goal of the season?
Pools got themselves back in the game thanks to a ridiculous solo effort from Oates. The Pools forward skipped past a few players on the edge of the box with some neat footwork and looked to have ran into a dead end before audaciously spinning his man and finding the bottom left corner.
A goal Lionel Messi would be proud of but one that would ultimately be spoiled by what was to follow.
Pools looked to push on with Luke Molyneux and Harvey Saunders both hitting the woodwork as it seemed like the early set-back was well behind the hosts.
But against the run of play, Maidenhead went back in front.
More sloppy defending saw Orsi in a dangerous position once again as he played the ball across goal for Sam Barratt to stroke in to make it 2-1 after 38-minutes.
An all action opening 45-minutes took another turn just before the break as Maidenhead’s Ryheem Sheckleford was shown a straight red card for a dangerous challenge on Saunders. A harsh decision on first viewing.
That should have been the lucky break to help Pools get back into the game in the second half but all it did was galvanise Maidenhead to secure victory.
Second half implosion
Challinor’s side were struggling to adapt to the change in formation or more specifically the absence of Liddle as Odusina and Johnson looked lost without the support and organisation of the veteran defender. It was a painful flashback to those dark November days when Pools were at their lowest point of the season.
Long balls were proving troublesome for Pools’ back line and Maidenhead knew it.
Within minutes of the restart, the visitors grabbed a third as Rhys Lovett’s goal-kick found Barratt clean through to clinically dispatch his second of the afternoon.
A triple change for the hosts saw Lewis Cass, Luke Williams and Danny Elliott introduced for Odusina, Holohan and Mark Shelton.
It was a necessary roll of the dice from Challinor to try and get Pools back into the game but it didn’t have the desired effect.
The 10-men of Maidenhead went 4-1 up 10-minutes into the second half as Barratt grabbed his hat-trick with a fine drilled strike from distance.
After not conceding more than once in a game at Victoria Park since December, Hartlepool had conceded four within 55-minutes.
They simply didn't look like the same team we’d been spoilt by over the past five months. That sharpness in possession and hunger to get back into the game was noticeably absent.
In fairness, they did continue to create chances, mainly through Ferguson and Jamie Sterry on either side. And with four minutes of normal time remaining, substitute Elliott headed in his first goal for the club from Sterry’s cross but it would prove to be nothing more than a consolation as the game ended 4-2.
Fortunately for the players, no fans were there to witness it in person, hopefully for the final time.
Last week, there was talk of the title and even if the side had to settle for a play-off place there was a confidence that they were capable of getting the job done.
Now, there is a vulnerability that has resurfaced and all of a sudden the doubt is creeping back in.
But with Liddle, Cass and Armstrong to come back into the side next weekend, surely things can only get better?