Liam Kennedy’s Hartlepool analysis: Pools prove they belong in National League promotion mix

Hartlepool United's Niko Muir receives treatment during the Vanarama National League match between Salford City and Hartlepool United at Moor Lane, Salford on Tuesday 25th September 2018. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News & Sport Ltd)'�MI News & Sport Ltd'Tel: +44 7752 571576'e-mail: markf@mediaimage.co.uk'Address: 1 Victoria Grove, Stockton on Tees, TS19 7EL
Hartlepool United's Niko Muir receives treatment during the Vanarama National League match between Salford City and Hartlepool United at Moor Lane, Salford on Tuesday 25th September 2018. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News & Sport Ltd)'�MI News & Sport Ltd'Tel: +44 7752 571576'e-mail: markf@mediaimage.co.uk'Address: 1 Victoria Grove, Stockton on Tees, TS19 7EL

Hartlepool United have got absolutely nothing to fear from the National League.

That may seem a strange statement to make when they’ve just been thoroughly turned over by one of their promotion rivals - on paper, at least.

The result in this one only tells a fraction of the story.

While in black and white this was a comfortable win for the hosts, anyone who witnessed will know a three-goal win flattered the hosts, despite the fact they also hit the bar twice in the opening 45.

Salford are a very good side, don’t get me wrong. But on this evidence so are Pools.

And if this is the very best the National League has to offer - and it might well be - then Pools know they can go toe-to-toe with anyone at this level.

There was one key difference between the two. That factor decided the outcome of this one in the north west, and it might well prove the difference come the end of the season, too.

While Pools look like they’re not only struggling to create, they also don’t seem to have that finishing touch in the final third.

This is in stark contrast to the Ammies, who were ice cold clinical in front of goal at the Peninsula Stadium.

And it was that killer instinct which saw them blow Pools out the water in the space of 10 second half minutes.

Strikes from Danny Lloyd, Adam Rooney and Tom Walker ensured Salford ended Hartlepool’s nine-game unbeaten run.

The defeat was just the second on the road of Matthew Bates’ time in the Pools’ hotseat - their first since March. The loss saw them slip outside of the play-off places in the fifth tier, ahead of the weekend visit of Aldershot.

Having won four on the bounce on the road, Bates made just the one enforced change to the Pools XI with Peter Kioso suspended. Conor Newton was handed the chance to shine on the right-hand side.

A midfielder by trade, Newton was right in the thick of the action from the off, having a hand in Pools’ best chance of the half when he laid on a plate for Paddy McLaughlin, but the midfielder fired over when well placed.

In a nip and tuck opening 45 in terms of chances the hosts were dominant, but when it comes to overall play you could make a case for Pools being the brighter of the sides.

The impressive Walker hit the bar twice in the opening half - the first was tipped on to the bar quite brilliantly by Scott Loach, the second a rising strike from close range in which the wideman should have done better.

The biggest drama in a Pools sense was the loss of Niko Muir to injury. With options restricted Bates will hope the ankle knock is not too serious.

Having failed to take their chances before the break, Salford were in no mood to make the same mistake again after the break.

On the break Lloyd got on the end of a low cross to tuck home the opener, which Mark Kitching was convinced should have been disallowed, before Ammies’ skipper Rooney nodded powerfully past Loach from a corner.

And with Pools pushing to get back in it, they were again caught on the break as Walker, third time lucky, produced a finish from close range.

Don’t be fooled by the result, Pools were better than 3-0. They do need to improve in the final third, though. They might have lost on the night, but they proved they belong in the promotion race all the same.