Hartlepool analysis: Pools must be pragmatic as only points not style will get them promoted

Action from the Maidenhead United v Hartlepool United game at York Road.
Action from the Maidenhead United v Hartlepool United game at York Road.

Tactics, systems and formations.

They can be as simple or as complicated as you want them to be.

Substance, not style, is the only thing that will get Pools promoted

And three games into the National League season it is becoming apparent that maybe Hartlepool United are trying to be too clever for their own good.

It’s early days in the campaign, but as things stand there are more questions than answers surrounding Pools at the moment.

And it’s not entirely clear whether anyone at the club knows what is being asked at this level, never mind being able to find the answers.

Pools on Saturday, as they did last weekend against Dover Athletic, came up against one of the minnows of the fifth tier.

Harrison & Co, with their ultra professional approach, were 100% prepared for the encounter. The players travelled down the day before, unlike some sides at this level would afford, had pre-match meals, a perfectly catered tactical dossier prepared, etc.

But what they did not account for was that Maidenhead, a team making their debut at this level, had a trick or two up their sleeve. And sometimes no matter how meticulous your planning and preparation, you cannot account for all eventualities.

The groundsman at York Road was told not to cut the grass or water the surface for a week.

And as a result the pitch was bone dry, with long grass and resembled your old school field, complete with uneven penalty areas and clumps out the turf.

Having worked since pre-season on being a ‘football first’, free-flowing side, Pools were unable to zip it around as they can at the Vic or at Maiden Castle.

They came up against a side who know exactly what they were doing - intent on making life as difficult as possible for their much more illustrious opponents.

And why not, at the end of the day while Pools were enjoying the Football League, the Magpies were slumming it in the National League North. These are the type of games their part-time players dream of.

So, 45 minutes into the encounter and a goal down thanks to Dave Tarpey’s effort, Harrison had to again rip up the rulebook, so to speak.

Having set up 3-5-2 he reverted to the 4-4-2 that served the team so well at Macclesfield Town late on.

That’s not the first time. In fact, it was the third time in three games Harrison has done that.

Now, while that deserves credit for seeing a problem and addressing it, it also means Pools have a problem.

Either the players are unable to implement what the manager wants or complex systems just don’t wash in the fifth tier.

I tend to think it is partly the latter.

Pools quite clearly have a squad stronger than all but maybe one or two teams in the division.

But they have been second best for much of their season.

Harrison needs to find a formation and system that suits his players best. The constant change has been damaging for Pools, who have just one point to show for their 270 minutes work at this level so far.

Every player wants to play in an attractive team. Every manager wants to be responsible for putting said team together. And every football fan wants to be entertained. But at the end of the day they all prefer to win games. Substance, not style is the only thing that will get Pools promoted.

Pragmatism has to come into it, because if we are talking about the same issues in seven days time, that’ll be 10% of the season wasted.

There’s a lot of good to be said of Harrison and Pools, but they need to find a way to win and fast. Even if they’re ugly in doing so.