Liam Kennedy analysis: Hartlepool’s five games without a goal is not up to scratch

Lewis Alessandra skies his penalty way over the bar
Lewis Alessandra skies his penalty way over the bar

Hartlepool United have now gone more than 450 minutes without registering a goal.

By anyone’s standards that’s not up to scratch.

Five games and more than a month of football has passed since Poolies had a goal of their own to celebrate.

You have to cast your mind back to the closing minutes of the victory over Accrington on November 22, for Pools’ last strike - Lewis Alessandra’s effort putting the finishing touches on a well-earned win.

And while he was the hero then, he was the villain at a bright, bitterly cold, Northern Gas & Power Stadium yesterday.

With Craig Hignett’s men 1-0 down to an opportunist Mark Cullen strike, and the game ticking over to the last quarter, Alessandra had the perfect chance to get Pools back in it from the spot.

But, the forward hit the ball high over the top of Sam Slocombe’s goal and into the Town End, coming within inches of clearing the stand altogether.

And with that Pools’ hopes of a deserved point went up in smoke.

Manager Craig Hignett admitted after the game he was angry that Alessandra put himself forward for the kick, especially given that Padraig Amond, on for skipper Billy Paynter, was the designated penalty taker.

Well, in truth, when the heat of the battle dies down, and the gaffer reflects back on the loss, I think he might find it hard to criticise Alessandra.

In recent weeks, when Pools have been totally devoid of character, fight and battle, they have been crying out for someone to stand up and be counted.

Alessandra did that. He wanted to be the man to take responsibility. Sadly, his footballing ability, and judgment, let him down badly.

Had he scored, no one would have batted an eyelid. But with his miss, which was awful, and that’s putting it kindly, Pools’ disappointing run of not netting in their last five continued.

Going with an unchanged side from the Portsmouth loss, Hignett trusted the players who gave their heart and soul down on the south coast.

Paynter was again preferred to Amond up top, with Rhys Oates on the wing and Scott Harrison, who won man of the match last week, given another start at centre half ahead of Toto Nsiala.

And, as they did last week, Pools gave as good as they got in the opening 45.

In a half of very few chances it would not be unfair to say the home side shaded things, with Josh Laurent particularly bright bursting from the midfield. Oates, too, this time playing off the right, managed to give Blackpool’s backline plenty to consider.

Into the second period and the battle of Pompey remained. Pools looked lively in attack, if without any real purpose when they reached the opposition 18 yard line, and resolute in defence, a term too rarely used when talking about Hignett’s men in recent times.

We all know too well that at any moment disaster is within Pools’ grasp.

And, having looked the brighter of the sides to the hour mark, disaster did strike.

A hopeful clearance forward caught the usually astute and aware Matthew Bates off guard, and that allowed Blackpool striker Cullen to streak free of the home defence and calmly slot home into the bottom corner giving Trevor Carson, again absolutely faultless on the day, no chance whatsoever.

It was far from deserved for Pools, but this is about the time when things all come tumbling down.

Rather than crumble, as in recent weeks, Pools, looking to build on their creditable 0-0 draw at promotion-chasing Portsmouth last week, kept their shape and resolve.

There were no signs of the weak underbelly which has been apparent when falling behind in a game. If there is a big positive to be taken from defeat it is that fact alone.

And finally, after knocking on the door on a number of occasions, their persistence was rewarded in the 83rd minute when a cross from the right was handled in the area by Tom Aldred.

Referee Geoff Eltringham had no hesitations in pointing to the spot. A clear as day penalty. A moment of madness from the defender. A chink of light for Pools.

Confidently Alessandra, the last player to score for Pools more than a month ago, stepped up but hit his shot high into the Town End, almost putting it out of the ground.

And with that, Pools fell to yet another home loss, this time - unlike Cambridge United a fortnight back - without the defensive capitulation.

Facts don’t lie. Hignett & Co are now just two points off the bottom three.

It’s going to be a long old winter at Hartlepool, but all is certainly not lost, as it felt just a few short weeks back.