Off field issues and on field struggles – Hartlepool United’s National League season is starting to unravel.
Pools suffered their FIFTH league loss on the bounce at the Crabble yesterday, a result which was somewhat overshadowed by the half expected absence of skipper Andrew Davies and the totally unexpected one of Liam Noble.
Even before a ball was kicked, Pools had taken two punches to the stomach.
Davies’ injury – hoped to be short-term and manageable by boss Matthew Bates – was confirmed as being far worse than expected. He will sit out FOUR weeks with the issue.
Then Noble revealed he had been dropped from the matchday 16, which he was due to captain, after what we understand to be a fall-out on the team bus the night before the Dover humbling.
When the ball came out the hosts dished out two further knockout blows.
Bedsente Gomis opened the scoring for Dover at the Crabble before Inih Effiong scored the goal which would eventually prove the difference. Josh Hawkes scored a fine solo goal which proved to be little more than a consolation.
On the day, Pools were just not good enough.
While Ryan Donaldson moving into the middle provided a real direct prong of attack from the centre, Pools continued to look suspect at the back. At times, it was another defensive horror show.
No blame can be attributed to Kenton Richardson, though. The youngster, playing in the centre of a back three for the first period, then at wing-back for the second half, was outstanding.
In Pools’ struggles he’s been a player that really has come to the fore.
On to the game itself, as well as three personnel changes – Peter Kioso, Tyrone O’Neill and Myles Anderson coming in from the team which started against Gillingham in midweek – Bates went back to a 3-5-2, no doubt with Davies and Noble’s absence playing a part.
An even opening, with chances at both end, then unravelled as Pools’ defensive frailties of recent weeks were again brought to the fore.
Some poor defending, with Pools failing to clear their lines, saw Gomis smash in the opener on 19 minutes.
Dover, the league’s bottom side before kick-off, had only won two games in 20 this season before Pools came to town, but their one-goal lead soon became two when Joshua Debayo’s run from deep went unchallenged and the ball rebounded free to Effiong, who sent Scott Loach the wrong way.
In goalscoring terms, that was the way it stayed for Pools until the 84th minute when a winding run saw Hawkes slot home under goalkeeper Mitch Walker to half the deficit. But it was too little, too late as Dover held on to claim just their third three-point haul of the campaign.
Bates & Co have now not won a game in the league for more than six weeks, with their last victory coming on October 6.
The result leaves Pools 12th in the National League, seven points away from the promotion play-off places.
It is also SEVEN without a win in all competitions.
Pressure is building at Pools as we head into the winter months.
Echoes of last season are all too apparent as the start to 2017/18 is remarkably comparable to that of 2018/19.
Pools are without doubt a better team this time around, with better players. They do need to get their act together, though, because their dreams of the play-offs will soon go up in smoke, if they’re not too careful.