Hartlepool United 3-1 Chesterfield verdict: Pools go marching on as National League title race heats up with Torquay United, Sutton and Stockport County
Hartlepool United’s social media may have been silent but there was plenty to shout about following a 3-1 win over Chesterfield at Victoria Park on Saturday evening.
First half goals from Rhys Oates and Luke Armstrong either side of a Josef Yarney own goal were enough to secure a 12th victory in 13 games at The Vic.
It extended Pools’ unbeaten run to 16 in front of the BT Sport cameras despite former Poolie Fraser Kerr pulling back a second half consolation for the visitors.
Ahead of the late kick-off, Pools had slipped out of the top three for the first time since mid-February following wins for Torquay United, Sutton United and Stockport County in the 3pm kick-offs.
Anything less than a win against Chesterfield would see them remain fourth going into the final five games of the season.
Over to you Pools…
Pools boss Dave Challinor made one change from the side that beat Wealdstone 7-2 a fortnight ago as Luke Armstrong returned to the starting line-up in place of the recalled Richie Bennett, who returned to his parent club Stockport County earlier this week.
New signings Zaine Francis-Angol and Harvey Saunders were named on the bench for the first time. Midfielder Tom White was also recalled to the matchday squad after missing out at Weladstone while Danny Elliott and Ryan Donaldson kept their place on the bench.
Ryan Johnson remained sidelined with a knee injury as Luke Molyneux and Luke Williams were notable absentees from the squad.
Off to a flyer
It was Pools’ first game in two weeks but they were the side who raced out of the traps with some intricate passing between Jamie Sterry and Lewis Cass down the right flank to win an early corner.
David Ferguson’s delivery was headed goalwards by Gavan Holohan but Chesterfield goalkeeper Grant Smith reacted well to deny the Pools midfielder. Fortunately for Pools, Oates also reacted quickly as he fired in the rebound for his 11th goal of the season.
Four minutes played and Hartlepool were already a goal to the good.
Challinor’s side maintained their early pressure and they could and probably should have been 2-0 up inside the first 16-minutes when Holohan slid Mark Shelton in down the right side of the penalty area.
Shelton showed great feet to find space and get the shot away but Smith was equal to it. Armstrong couldn’t quite connect with the rebound as Ferguson arrived at the back post to fire the ball back across goal with pace but it somehow eluda everyone.
Sealing the win
Pools had been dominant but the run up to half time really saw that dominance transpire itself as they effectively secured the points.
Gary Liddle (now unbeaten in all 20 games he’s featured in this season) played a brilliant forward ball to find Jamie Sterry, whose deft touch saw him in acres of space down the right.
Sterry’s ball across goal to find Armstrong was intercepted by Josef Yarney but the ball rolled into the Chesterfield goal to make it 2-0.
After a slight scare courtesy of a Danny Rowe free-kick, Pools made it three.
Armstrong’s initial effort from Liddle’s low ball was blocked into the path of Holohan who only had to stroke the ball into an empty net but somehow hit the post when it was easier to score. Fortunately Armstrong reacted well to save the Irish midfielder’s blushes and net his 12th of the campaign.
Three goals to the good at half-time, much like they were last time out at Wealdstone.
A ‘Spireited’ display
Unlike Wealdstone, Chesterfield came out with their heads up after the break and got themselves on the front foot.
Defender Cass was replaced by Francis-Angol at the break after suffering with tendonitis in his knee. The Newcastle United loanee will miss Monday’s trip to Bromley as a result.
Pools still looked comfortable but a headed goal from former Hartlepool defender Fraser Kerr on his return to Victoria Park pulled one back for Chesterfield and meant it would be a slightly nervy final half hour for the hosts.
At 3-1, Chesterfield continued to apply the pressure as Pools lost some of the intensity that characterised their first half display.
Oates had a great chance to restore the three goal lead as he skipped clear of the Chesterfield defenders only to overrun the ball instead of finding Armstrong alongside him.
A slightly frustrated Armstrong was replaced by debutant Harvey Saunders soon afterwards but the Fleetwood Town loanee didn’t see a lot of the ball as Pools were still able to see out the win with relative ease.
Pools go marching on
Following the win, Pools fans,who haven’t been allowed in at Victoria Park all season, took to Clarence Road to make their voices heard. And that they did.
As the Hartlepool boss was being interviewed by BT Sport, chants of ‘Challinor’s blue and white army’ from the other side of the gate were dominating the airwaves at The Vic.
The atmosphere has been sterile for the entire season but Poolies are still making their voices heard ahead of the proposed May 29 return.
This bank holiday weekend was always going to be crucial for Challinor’s side, they’ve got the first half ticked off, now it’s onto Bromley for what will be their quickest turnaround for a National League match this season.
The side are now unbeaten in 16 league games, the longest run without defeat of any side in the division this season yet they still sit three points behind leaders Torquay while Sutton sit two points ahead of them with a game in hand.
Every side in the top four is gunning for the title going into the final batch of games and every one of them has momentum behind them – it’s just a case of who will blink first.