Exeter City 1 Hartlepool United 2: Roy Kelly’s Pools analysis

Billy Paynter shoots home the Hartlepool United winner past Exeter  defenders Jordan Moore-Taylor and Pierce Sweeney. Picture: Gareth Williams/ AHPIX
Billy Paynter shoots home the Hartlepool United winner past Exeter defenders Jordan Moore-Taylor and Pierce Sweeney. Picture: Gareth Williams/ AHPIX

Sixth place in League Two – looks nice, doesn’t it.

Would you take that in May? Of course you would.

Of course, sixth place now means little, though you’d like to think the confidence level will have risen following this come-from-behind success.

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Hartlepool United are up AND they are running, courtesy of a dramatic victory at St James’s Park with two goals in two minutes from Michael Woods and Billy Paynter.

Of course, sixth place now means little, though you’d like to think the confidence level will have risen following this come-from-behind success.

It certainly wasn’t undeserved and Pools head to Crewe Alexandra in fine fettle and you would like to hope sixth might be just the start.

Crewe have had a good start themselves – a 2-0 win at Crawley to kick-off life back in League Two followed by a goalless home draw with Portsmouth at the weekend.

Craig Hignett was, understandably, thrilled by the way his team earned their first three points.

There had been spells of promise in each of the two previous outings but only one goal – a penalty from Paynter.

But promise was translated into points at St James’s Park, where Pools could have had a couple more goals, though the same could be said of Exeter.

For all Pools won, the game threw up more questions, notably what system should Pools play.

There was an element of square pegs being forced into round holes against Colchester on the first Saturday of the season, when Hignett admitted he went to a 4-4-2 – a formation he usually does not advocate – to accommodate his attackers.

It seemed to leave the midfield a little short and at Preston on Tuesday he sent out a 4-3-3 and, while Pools had to defend for their lives from time to time, the balance seemed better.

Was I alone in being happy to see a 4-3-3 start at Exeter? Probably not.

Whether it was the formation to blame or not, Pools emerged from the blocks like a tortoise.

While Exeter were hardly Usain Bolts, Hignett’s side could not get out of first gear and trailed to a 32nd-minute goal by Liam McAlinden.

The first half lethergy prompted the manager to tear up his system at half-time and tear into his players. It had the desired effect.

Paynter, who had seen little of the ball in the first half and enjoyed scant success, was suddenly energised, setting up sub Padraig Amond in the first 30 seconds.

Sadly, Amond fluffed his chance, his shot from the outside of his right foot trickling agonisingly wide of Bobby Olejnik’s left stick.

Pools threatened again on 50 minutes when Nathan Thomas broke into the box and let fly, only for Olejnik to beat out his left-foot shot.

Exeter were not without their hances and Trevor Carson saved well from Ollie Watkins and Lloyd James hit the bar from a free-kick after he was tripped by Nicky Featherstone just outside the area.

But Pools were getting better with Paynter and Amond getting through a lot of graft up front with Thomas and Lewis Alessandra looking good out wide.

And Pools gained their reward in the 74th and 75th minutes.

The equaliser was slightly fortunate, though, perhaps Pools had earned it. Woods found Amond inside the box with the striker playing a neat pass to Alessandra.

He found space to cross and while an Exeter defender got his foot to it, the ball fell nicely to Woods who finished with his left foot from eight yards.

You wait forever for one goal and then two come along at once.

Featherstone found Carl Magnay on the right, the impressive full-back driving in a low cross into the box. Amond cleverly let the ball run through to Paynter who half-turned and rifled his shot from nine yards past Olejnik.

For the first time this season Pools were in front, how would they cope?

The answer was pretty smoothly.

There was one scare 10 minutes from time when Watkins, a thorn in the side most of the afternoon, escaped his marker and got his head to a cross from sub Connor Riley-Lowe, but thankfully it went wide of Trevor Carson’s left upright.

After that, Pools were comfortable, knocking the ball around nicely.

Indeed, they went close to adding some icing to the cake. Alessandra, the pick of the summer signings so far, beat his marker as though he wasn’t there to put the ball into the dangerzone.

Thomas, who had been a constant danger down the left, took aim with his rarely-seen right foot, only to see his effort blocked ... by team-mate Rhys Oates, the sub being unable to get out of the way.

But, as Hignett said afterwards “2-1 away from home? I’ll take that.”

He certainly would take that having witnessed the lame first-half display.

A couple of times Pools did string a few passes together, or Thomas threatened danger, but the last ball just was not there.

Exeter, fresh from knocking Championship side Brentford out of the EFL Cup, were bright but no world-beaters.

Robbie Simpson hit the wall from a free-kick and drew a save from Carson.

Their goal was on the soft side, with Watkins given too much room in the box from a throw-in to set up McAlinden who found Carson’s bottom left corner.

Hignett was not pleased and told his players so at half-time and the second 45 minutes proved a different story.

Can they now carry this on to Crewe’s Gresty Road and keep Pools up there in the top six?

POOLS RATINGS

Trevor Carson: Flawless aside from a little second-half juggle from which he recovered superbly from and almost put Nathan Thomas in with a great thorough all. Couple of key saves. 6

Carl Magnay: Looking good. Always on move forward, whether he was playing key balls or drawing fouls. 7

Toto Nsiala: Chalk ‘n’ cheese from the big fella, some good solid stuff but also made a real Horlicks when he let Ollie Watkins in, but, fortunately, did not lead to a goal. 6

Rob Jones: Strong start but came off after taking a knock. 6

Jake Carroll: Just like Magnay on the other side, Carroll is in good nick down the left. 7

Nicky Featherstone: Un-Nicky like, he dozed off for the Exeter goal but otherwise good and involved in winner. Booked after daft foul on Lloyd James. 6

Nathan Hawkins: Made way for Padraig Amond at the break. Not at races in first half but not alone. 6

Michael Woods: Got Pools back on track as he built on a good display in midweek at Preston. 7

Lewis Alessandra: Looking the pick of the summer signings so far, fine work on right in second half including setting up equaliser. 7

Billy Paynter: Excellent second half, highlighted by his neat turn and finish. Played one of the balls of the game to put Thomas away. 7

Nathan Thomas: Continued his terrific form, though too often his delivery did not match his approach. Could have had a goal but for a late block. 7

Subs

Matthew Bates (for Jones 46): Settled into the back four seamlessly in the second half and wasn’t shy to get forward. 6

Padraig Amond (for Hawkins 46): Good display up top. Should have scored with first touch and had a hand in equaliser. Best game yet. 7

Rhys Oates (for Paynter 86): Good late block late on, shame it was from Thomas shot. N/A

Unused Subs: Bartlett, Richards, Laurent, Deverdics

Goals: Woods 74, Paynter 75

Booked: Featherstone 52

OPPONENTS

Exeter: Olejnik, McCready (Egan 90), Woodman (Jay 86), James, Tillson, Simpson, Watkins, Moore-Taylor, McAlinden (Riley-Lowe 70), Taylor, Sweeney.

Unused Subs: Byrne, Ampadu, Pym, Storey.

Goal: McAlinden 32

Booked: Tillson 8, Taylor 38, Sweeney 61

Referee: Mark Heywood. Too many yellow cards. 6

GOOD DAY FOR

Carl Magnay: This time 12 months ago, he was in midfield but now is in top form at right-back, getting forward superbly.

Involved in some of the best attacking play, including the winner. Having just scored, it would have ben easy to say ‘let’s kep this’ but he got forward and delivered the cross which Billy Paynter despatched.

BAD DAY FOR

Lewis Hawkins: When Craig Hignett decided there would have to be a change at half-time, it was probably a toss-up who would be the man to make way.

Hard on the 22-year-old? Maybe but it shows the cut throat nature of the attacking options that after a couple of good displays he was given ‘the hook’. I’m sure he’ll be back and soon.

KEY MOMENT

Lloyd James hits bar: Pools pulled off a fine win and deservedly so. But had Lloyd James’s 53rd-minute free-kick found the net instead of Trevor Carson’s crossbar there may have been no way back.