Liam Kennedy’s analysis: Tactical change pays instant dividend as Pools beat Morecambe

Nicky Featherstone converts Hartlepool's third goal
Nicky Featherstone converts Hartlepool's third goal

A win of any kind is a step in the right direction for Hartlepool United.

But they definitely made hard work of seeing off fellow strugglers Morecambe at the Northern Gas & Power Stadium.

Billy Paynter converts from the penalty spot to put Hartlepool 2-0 up

Billy Paynter converts from the penalty spot to put Hartlepool 2-0 up

After a disappointing performance all round on Monday night, Craig Hignett decided to ring the changes for the visit of Shrimps, who, coming into the game, had the joint worst defensive record in the division – tied with Pools.

Matthew Bates was the big casualty from Boxing Day, although it was injury, not loss of form, which saw the former Middlesbrough man drop out.

A back problem saw him sidelined with under-fire Toto Nsiala, who has had a difficult few weeks, coming back in.

He was joined in a back three by Scott Harrison and Liam Donnelly, with Jake Carroll and Lewis Hawkins playing wing-back roles and Padraig Amond supporting Billy Paynter up top.

Hignett has been reluctant to play his two frontline strikers in the same team, preferring instead to go for a one up top with two men supporting wide.

But the decision to bite the bullet and go with his two hitmen paid dividends, just minutes into last night’s encounter.

And it was returning Amond who showed the manager just why he is such a difficult player to leave out.

Amond took down a loose ball in the area and, with his back to goal, turned and looped a volley over the head of Barry Roche.

It was an outstanding piece of skill from the Irishman. And it was just what the doctor ordered for relegation-threatened Pools and under-pressure Hignett.

What Amond can do, so can Paynter, though.

The club captain, who has been a peripheral figure this season, slotted home a penalty just three minutes later to send the home fans into raptures.

The spot-kick was awarded after a needless handball from Ryan Edwards.

Goals have been in short supply for Pools recently – they’d gone five games without one to last night.

But they remarkably had three in less than half an hour at the Vic as Nicky Featherstone got in on the act.

The Pools midfielder’s bursting run from deep was found expertly by Michael Woods at the end of a flowing move.

Woods, who came back in for Josh Laurent, dropped after weeks of under-par showings, was imperious in the middle, winning every ball and finding incisive passes in the final third, giving Pools a cutting edge which has been absent in recent weeks.

Playing Amond off Paynter looked an absolute masterstroke by Hignett, even the three at the back seemed to work a treat with Nsiala, a little shaky at times, supported ably by the flawless Harrison and Donnelly.

Morecambe were second best in every department in the opening half. They could not lay a finger on the hosts.

But they did have a chance of their own to make things interesting as the game ticked over into added time at the end of the half – Rhys Turner nodded a speculative cross onto Trevor Carson’s bar but it was cleared and Pools three goal cushion remained intact.

The match looked to be won already as Hignett’s men went down the tunnel at the break. Or was it?

Just seven minutes into the second period Jim Bentley’s men gave themselves a lifeline. A deflected Andrew Fleming strike ricocheted into the roof of Carson’s net for 3-1.

But, as was the case five days previous, instead of crumpling under the immediate pressure, Pools weathered the storm. In fact, they came back stronger.

But as the game wore on the refreshing approach approach of shooting on sight, adopted early on, was abandoned, in favour of a return to the ponderous, nervy attitude when getting into the Shrimps final third.

That shift led to a nervy final quarter, in which Pools soaked up some pressure from the visitors, but did so ably.

There was time for substitute Paul Mullin to crank up the pressure with a second for Morecambe off the underside of the bar in added time, but there was never really any doubt that Pools would see it through.

And as the final whistle went there was an air of relief around the Vic, one not felt too often this season.

Pools deserved the victory, which saw them ease away from the dreaded League Two dropzone.

And it seems that heading into the New Year they are very much moving in the right direction, even if the steps taken are of the baby variety, not the strides many had hoped for back in August.