Hartlepool United 0 Fleetwood 1: Craig Hope’s match report

CHOPPING DOWN WOOD: Steve Howard in action against Fleetwood Town. Picture by FRANK REID
CHOPPING DOWN WOOD: Steve Howard in action against Fleetwood Town. Picture by FRANK REID

THE ending was painfully predictable, but at least the narrative was a little more enjoyable.

For on Saturday, at long last, there was the promise that this will not be a season-long tale of torture.

This was the first glimpse of Colin Cooper’s vision for Hartlepool United.

Sadly, it proved to be a snapshot which passed without reward.

Cooper fielded four of his summer recruits, five if the senior elevation of Brad Walker is included.

It felt new.

And, as that air of optimism lifted the gloom of a murky August afternoon, Pools set about their opponents.

Winger Jack Comtpon weaved in and out of his minders, midfielders Matty Dolan and Simon Walton snapped forward passes of promise, while debutant full-back Michael Duckworth thundered through challenges and rallied a home support starved of such passion.

There were chances, too.

Steve Howard saw a header hacked from the goal-line and Dolan skidded a venomous drive into the chest of goalkeeper Scott Davies – it was exhilarating stuff.

But then arrived what many would deem the inevitable.

Fleetwood winger Antoni Sarcevic broke unopposed and pinged a shot on target, Scott Flinders failed to gather at the first attempt and Jeff Hughes followed up to bundle home.

No matter. Deficits can be reversed.

Except to do so, goals must be scored.

And, as we’ve known for the best part of two years, Pools don’t do goals.

There are 72 Football League clubs, each kicking off their campaign some three weeks ago.

Just one have yet to locate the back of the net.

As recently as April Pools went 12 hours without score, the current famine has extended to six.

Cooper will today ponder whether or not the solution to this crippling conundrum lies within his squad.

If so, then he must succeed where Mick Wadsworth, Neale Cooper and John Hughes have failed.

For at present, it is hard to present a case for any of Howard, James Poole, Luke James or Nialle Rodney emerging as a double-figure hitman.

Instead, the majority of supporters and observers will offer that addition is still needed.

Without it, all of the good which Cooper has harnessed will go to waste.

The foundations of the team are in place.

Duckworth’s arrival from Bradford Park Avenue and his immediate instalment in the side set the tone for Saturday’s improvement, likewise Middlesbrough loanee Dolan.

The former was energetic, combative and assured in possession.

The latter, meanwhile, exuded class, putting on a first-half demonstration of composure allied to creativity.

Just as Cooper has predicted, it spread.

Compton was electrifying, repeatedly tearing by his full-back.

Walton swept one 50-yard pass to the winger which was deserving of a top-flight setting.

While Howard produced his best 45 minutes of 2013.

The team were rightly applauded from the pitch at the break, but there the cheer ended.

For the second half was flat, a regression to the predictability which has plagued recent seasons on home soil.

There was, as Cooper described it, “huff and puff”, but it was Fleetwood who threatened to double their advantage.

David Ball cracked a post from an impossible angle and Sarcevic drew to a fingertip diversion from Flinders.

Howard did force a flying save from Davies at the other end but that was as close as they came to parity.

And so ended another home outing without a goal and without a point.

Of the last 66 matches on Clarence Road, Pools have failed to score in exactly half.

It is a trend which, ultimately, led to demotion.

Cooper, and the club, cannot allow a similar story to unfold.

Especially when the boss has built the basis of an exciting side.