Liam Kennedy’s analysis: ‘Mature’ Pools adapting to National League challenges

Nicky Featherstone
Nicky Featherstone

Six points from five games. It’s not the return Hartlepool United have deserved, nor is it what they would have wanted.

Either way, they’ll be delighted to finally ease fears by getting their first three on the board.

Without it, unnecessary pressure can build - see last season for proof of that.

And this team is better than that, it’s made of sterner stuff than last season.

Now it’s their job to use this result and performance, which was not without fault, as a springboard towards the upper echelons of the fifth tier.

Let’s not beat around the bush - this team is one built to challenge from promotion back to the Football League.

Don’t believe the spin, the dampening down of the hype.

Matthew Bates has managed to assemble, with the help of Raj Singh and Craig Hignett, a side littered with talent worthy of league football.

The pressure might not be there from a financial perspective, with Singh digging deep in the boardroom, but from a playing perspective, this is a team who expects to be up challenging, or at least it should.

Luke James is a striker who should not be playing at this level, the same can be said of Niko Muir.

Andrew Davies had offers from as high as League One this summer but chose to spend the autumn of his career at his boyhood club.

Liam Noble is a player with the class to grace any midfield a division higher ... at least.

And that’s just for starters.

It is when looking at the talent on offer that it’s easy to be angry or disappointed with the points tally to date.

But for a goal here or there this should be 10 points from six, three wins, not one.

The message from manager Bates has been “don’t panic”. It hasn’t stopped many on the terraces doing just that.

The players listened to their gaffer.

Even after the body blow of Braintree, they stuck to their guns and their principles.

There were faint boos as Pools walked off the park at 0-0 against Maidenhead United, who occupied bottom spot in the National League at kick-off.

Of course, it was unfair and hasty, but the players did not take it to heart.

Having failed to really unlock the door in the opening half they came out all guns blazing in the second.

Teams of the past have been overawed by the fan reaction at the Vic, this side seemed to use it as a catalyst.

Luke James, unbelievable in his third spell to date, got the goal his effort levels and nuisance factor have deserved over his five games.

Nicky Featherstone produced a bit of magic rarely seen from him, and even less so at this famous old ground in recent times.

It was a strike worthy of winning any match. You will struggle to see a better, more precise finish at this level all season.

Cruising Pools looked to put the game to bed - but there was to be a sting in the tail.

Alan Massey got hearts racing when he guided in a late strike to make it 2-1. The change in mood on the terraces was palpable.

On the pitch, though, there was not. Pools of Harrogate and Braintree invited the pressure - on Saturday they did not.

Instead they went on the front foot and refused to let the ghosts of the not too distant past haunt them.

They took the game by the scruff of the neck, running down the clock with their fair share of gamesmanship as well as Paddy McLaughlin’s cute runs into the corners.

That final five minutes showed a maturity absent in recent weeks.

It was a sign that this team can learn on their feet and adapt to the challenge ahead - something Craig Harrison’s side were unable to do this time last year.

A win was deserved, and well earned. It must just be the start for Pools, though.

Dagenham are there for the taking and this Pools side can smell blood, having put their late show woes behind them.