Analysis: If Hartlepool play like first half again, they’ll be relegated

HERO: Marlon Harewood celebrates his goal for Hartlepool against Accrington Stanley. Picture by FRANK REID
HERO: Marlon Harewood celebrates his goal for Hartlepool against Accrington Stanley. Picture by FRANK REID

MARLON Harewood, much-maligned during his time at Hartlepool United, stepped up to the plate when his side needed it most last night.

With Pools desperately pushing for an equaliser, Ronnie Moore turned to his subs bench in the 77th minute.

TUSSLE: players waiting for the ball to come in as Hartlepool drew 1-1 at home against Accrington Stanley. Picture by FRANK REID

TUSSLE: players waiting for the ball to come in as Hartlepool drew 1-1 at home against Accrington Stanley. Picture by FRANK REID

And three minutes later Harewood was the hero, powering home a header from close range to spark wild celebrations among the Victoria Park faithful.

It was only his SIXTH goal for the club since Colin Cooper signed him in January last year.

His goalscoring record since joining has been nowhere near good enough for an experienced striker who has played at the highest level in England.

But when his team needed him, Harewood finally delivered.

FELLED: Neil Austin.

FELLED: Neil Austin.

The goal could yet prove a crucial one, although in reality Pools will be disappointed to have come away with just the one point.

Accrington Stanley, backed by just 40 supporters, are 17th in Sky Bet League Two and have nothing to play for.

Pools should have come roaring out of the blocks but instead produced one of the worst 45 minutes of football you’ll see all season, carrying on from the York City match.

They were dire and you could picture the scene at half-time as Moore tore strips off them.

With a much-needed change to the system and personnel, Pools were a different proposition in the second half.

The problem Moore faces is if his side produce many more performances like the first period, they will be relegated.

Show the same desire, fight and commitment after the break and they should have enough to stay up – but it will go down to the wire.

Lewis Hawkins, in for Brad Walker, was the only change, with Moore sticking with his 3-5-2 formation. He favours the system but it didn’t work against a Stanley side quick to close down their Pools counterpart.

It resulted in a nervy and cagey start to the match from the home side, on a night when they couldn’t really afford to lose.

Pools looked crippled by nerves in the opening 15 minutes, with the feeling soon spreading to the terraces.

John Coleman’s side – no great shakes themselves – were well drilled and gave Pools no time at all on the ball, pressing the home side at every opportunity.

It was arguably the worst opening 45 minutes of the season, and that is saying something.

The midfield was too congested, there was a lack of width and the players again seemed to run out of ideas when they approached the Stanley defence.

The closest they came was a Jordan Hugill shot blasted high over the bar and a Scott Harrison free-kick hit into the wall with venom.

And that was it.

Up the other end Scott Flinders was a spectator for large periods too, Josh Windass shooting high into the Town End after the Pools defence made a hash of the clearance.

And then, almost out of the blue, Stanley took the lead.

The Pools defence hesitated as Sean Maguire was able to flick the ball to Windass – son of Dean – who hit a well-struck half volley from 20-yards into the top left-hand corner.

There was no reaction from Pools, as they were camped in their own half for the remainder of the half.

A ‘Ronnie Rocket’ was coming at the break, you just knew it.

And it was no surprise to see Moore ring the changes at the break, switching to 4-4-2 with Scott Fenwick and Jordan Jones coming on for Michael Duckworth and Hawkins.

There was far more intent from the off, Hugill bursting through before rashly shooting over the bar from 18-yards.

There can’t have been any paint left on the walls of the Pools dressing room following the break, with the home side a different team altogether – pressing and harrying a rattled Stanley defence.

Fenwick looked hungry to impress after a two-month absence with an ankle injury, using every trick in the book to draw fouls and wind up the Stanley back two of Lloyd Jones and Rob Atkinson.

Hugill, alongside him, is a similar sort of player.

But crucially, clear chances were still few and far between and as the clock ticked down, the nerves again began to come into play.

Middlesbrough loanee Jones provided some width and creativity but his final ball let him down.

Stanley almost doubled their lead on the 70th minute.

Flinders made a fine stop from Pietro Mingola, the ball looping back towards the goalline before Harrison cleared from underneath his own crossbar.

Moore then turned to his subs bench again – Harewood on for the disappointing Franks.

And he made an instant impact – getting a powerful header on to the end of a Jones cross to bullet home from close range within three minutes of coming on.

Cue wild scenes of celebration – with supporters not only cheering the equaliser but also a rare Harewood goal.

Stanley sub Seamus McCartan tried his luck with a cushioned volley from inside the area, well held by Flinders before Fenwick should have won it in added-on time.

Austin whipped the ball across to the far post but somehow he lofted it over the bar from less than six yards.

He was stretching and can be forgiven for the miss but he won’t have slept last night.

In the end Pools had to settle for a point, it could prove a vital one come the start of May.