Hartlepool United bounce back against Cheltenham to end worrying away form

Jack Compton in action against Cheltenham Town
Jack Compton in action against Cheltenham Town

RITCHIE Humphreys’ famous book – From Tears to Cheers – marked his rise from missing a crucial penalty in a semi-final play-off match to winning promotion the following season with Hartlepool United.

The emotional club legend missed the penalty of course in the away leg at Cheltenham Town at the end of the 2001-02 campaign and the name of his promotion diary the following season is an apt way of describing Saturday’s 2-2 draw against the Robins.

From the depths of despair going into the half-time break two down, Pools rose like a Phoenix from the Ashes to come away with a well-deserved point after two clinical finishes from Jonathan Franks.

This was Colin Cooper’s very own ‘From Tears to Cheers’ moment.

Pools, sporting a new 3-5-2 formation with three changes in personnel, got off to the worst possible start when Mark Yates’ side took the lead after just four minutes.

It meant Pools – and their new system – were on the ropes from the off and they struggled in a game being played in very blustery conditions.

Time and time again, Robins’ pacy forwards piled forward and the back three of Christian Burgess, Neil Austin and Jack Baldwin were struggling to cope with the onslaught.

Speaking afterwards, honest Cooper admitted the system his team had been working on all week hadn’t worked and it was only when they reverted back to their traditional flat back four that the game swung in their favour.

The players showed good resilience and commitment to come back and in the end it didn’t work out too badly as the point meant Pools had put an end to their worrying away form.

They had previously lost three on the bounce in Sky Bet League Two.

It was a brave decision by Cooper to change from the 4-4-1-1 formation to a more expansive 3-5-2 system.

It was an even braver decision to drop 10-goal top scorer Luke James along with James Poole and left-winger Jack Compton, with Darren Holden, club captain Antony Sweeney and Franks returning to the starting line-up.

It was a surprise when the team sheets came in and in truth Holden struggled down the left flank, managing only once to get a good cross into the box – from which Franks’ almost scored with a header – despite getting into several good positions.

Sweeney also struggled to have an impact on the match but lively forward Franks – who is usually positioned out wide but is desperate for a chance up front – was a revelation alongside Andy Monkhouse.

He scored two good goals and should have had a third, but his effort before half-time was chalked off for an apparent foul on Craig Braham-Barrett by Sweeney in the build up.

An incredibly harsh decision.

Cooper felt James had looked in need of a rest after a gruelling few months and you couldn’t argue with the impact of his replacement.

Fans had been asking what the Plan B is up front, well Franks perhaps provided the answer.

Good timing ahead of the January transfer market when Cooper is looking to bring in reinforcements.

Cooper is adamant the 3-5-2 formation can work but he was flexible enough to realise when it wasn’t against Cheltenham that he needed to revert back to type in time to give his players the opportunity to get something from the game.

That is to his credit.

It was a decision which ultimately helped secure a point for Pools, who are 14th, seven points adrift of the play-off positions ahead of a busy period which could make or break the season.

Saturday started badly when Jermaine McGlashan took advantage of a mix-up between Scott Flinders and Neil Austin in the box to score from a tight angle.

Franks almost equalised in the 10th minute, but his strong header from the six-yard line was acrobatically saved by Robins keeper Scott Brown.

Craig Braham-Barrett and Kemar Roofe were causing Pools problems down both flanks, making the most of both Holden and Michael Duckworth being pushed high upfield.

The intense pace of the game finally settled and it allowed Pools to create further opportunities, Monkhouse denied a penalty in the 30th minute when he tore down on goal, while moments later his close-range header was saved by Brown.

But it was Cheltenham that doubled their lead, in the 37th minute, courtesy of a looping Kemar Roofe header after a fine cross from David Noble.

Flinders had no chance as the ball sailed high into the net.

Franks then had what looked like a perfectly good goal ruled out just before the break as Cooper’s men looked to re-group and re-organise.

They reverted to 4-4-2, with Compton coming on for Holden and Sweeney moving out to the right wing and it didn’t take long for Pools to halve the deficit.

Flinders’ quick up-field punt found Franks inside the Cheltenham area and he calmly slotted it past Brown to make it 2-1 in the 54th minute.

Cheltenham should then have made it 3-1 and put the game beyond Pools but McGlashan failed to take advantage of Flinders’ poor goal kick and his shot from a tight angle rolled agonisingly along the goal line.

It was the incentive Pools needed and Franks equalised in the 71st minute with the goal of the game.

His quick feet created enough room 22-yards out to get a shot away, clipping the post on the way in.

Franks then had a goal-den opportunity for his hat-trick but poked the ball just wide in the 83rd minute as both sides had to settle for a draw.

Cooper and co will now be hoping for far more cheers and far less tears over the busy festive season.