Hartlepool United’s Duckworth back to his old self and likes system

Mandron in action for Hartlepool against Oxford at the Victoria Ground on Saturday. Picture by Tom Collins.
Mandron in action for Hartlepool against Oxford at the Victoria Ground on Saturday. Picture by Tom Collins.

Colin Cooper. They may not be two of the most popular words in the Hartlepool United vocabulary.

But, in mitigation, to the former Pools boss, there were positives. Not many after Craig Hignett left the club.

One of the plus points was Michael Duckworth.

Plucked from non-league football by Cooper, he was an inspired signing and probably but for Luke James, would have been the player of the year at the end of his debut season.

The right-back can do his primary job well and never shirks a tackle, as noted by a bone-shuddering challenge on former Pools left-back Joe Skarz in Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Oxford United.

While Pools lost out to the new League Two leaders, the return of Duckworth and his return to form were positives to Ronnie Moore.

The 23-year-old was bombing forward like the good old days benefiting from the new formation Moore sent out, while he also took care of Oxford’s top scorer Kemar Roofe.

However you portray it, 4-3-3, 4-5-1 or 4-1-4-1, it gave Duckworth the licence to get forward and he hopes the manager sticks with that system.

“We went to a three [in central midfield] which I prefer, but of course it’s the gaffer’s choice what he plays,” he said.

“Roofe is a good player, I’ve heard a few clubs are after him, but I thought I did all right against him.

“But I was pleased with how I went forward.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve been criticised but I do need to get forward more, I thought I did that on Saturday.

“We played that at the start of the season when things were going right for us.

“I think the lads prefer it with the security of Nicky playing in front of the back four. It allows the full-back to push forward a little bit more.

“It’s allowed me to get forward, I’ve felt a bit restricted in previous games.

“On Saturday I got forward a lot more than I have been doing.”

After being absent the previous Saturday at Mansfield - and he certainly was missed in the 3-1 defeat - he was happy to be back.

Given a bit of a stop-start season he admitted he was feeling the pace towards the end but, overall, he was pleased.

“It’s been a nightmare for me, but it’s felt nice to be back out there,” said the ex-Bradford Park Avenue defender who has shaken off a calf problem.

“I was in line to start on Tuesday but, to be fair, the fact it was postponed probably did me good to have a bit longer on the training field.

“I was a bit tired towards the end but that was natural.

“Hopefully I will have a good week of training now and be ready for Friday [for Salford away].”

However, while there was pleasure at being back, there was disappointment Pools emerged empty-handed.

“It was our best football of the season,” he said. “The players were wanting it, and there was a spell before half-time when we were passing it around and we looked comfortable.

“We had a few chances, half-chances then that great opportunity early in the second half which we had to stick away really.

“If we scored that goal then I don’t think they would have come back.”

Mikael Mandron was the unfortunate player to miss out with that 57th-minute opening which would have been just esserts for the way Pools had played.

“We didn’t start the second half great but certainly the first, with and without the ball, is probably been the best we’ve been this season,” said Duckworth.

“And that was against a good side too, they are at the top of the division for reason.

“But, at the end of the day, we need to take our chances.

“That was probably the difference between the top and the bottom - Oxford took their chance when it came along.

“Miks has gone through, it looked like it was an easy chance for a striker but he just didn’t really connect with it and the keeper saved it.”