Liam Kennedy's Hartlepool United analysis: Common sense changes, crazy finishes and a substitution that proved costly

Craig Hignett.
Craig Hignett.

For 88 minutes Hartlepool United were head and shoulders above Dagenham.

But, as we all know, a game of football lasts for 90 plus minutes and Pools used the final two minutes, plus added time, to throw away three National League points.

Football can be crazy at the best of times, especially at Victoria Park.

In the craziest of fortnights, even for this football club, this match proved the icing on the cake.

Team bus altercations started a fire which eventually proved the end of Matthew Bates in the dugout after six fifth tier losses on the bounce. Low crowds, a caretaker in charge, things were far from ideal for Pools in the run up to this one.

But, having dealt with the challenge well for 88 minutes, and dominated for much of the encounter, Pools’ hopes imploded heading into the 90th minute.

And a lot of what went wrong can be put down to a change, made by Craig Hignett, with time ticking away.

Conor Newton was thrown in at left-back - he’s an attacking midfielder by trade - to see out the closing stages. He was unable to do so.

Mark Kitching has come in for some criticism this season, by Pools certainly missed him at the death as first Ben Goodliffe, then Matt Robinson completed a smash and grab raid at the Super 6 Stadium.

Liam Noble’s 13th minute penalty had put Pools ahead.

Hignett, selecting his first team since taking the reins as caretaker, made three changes to Matthew Bates’ last game in charge.

And it was a case of common sense changes from Hignett, as he brought back arguably three of Pools’ best performers this campaign in Niko Muir, Noble and Peter Kioso.

Noble, after all of the controversy of recent weeks, was an influence from the off.

A ball in from the right found its way to Mark Kitching at the back post and he was adjuded to have been pulled back by a Daggers defender and referee Joe Hull pointed to the spot. Up stepped Mr Reliable from 12 yards Noble, to send the keeper the wrong way.

Josh Hawkes, playing off the front two in a 3-4-1-2, found space between the lines of Dagenham’s midfield and back four. He was a constant thorn in their side as he saw two efforts palmed away by keeper Elliot Justham.

With the game finely poised at the break, but Pools well worth their lead, the hosts went on the attack in the second period. And Carl Magnay was within inches of making it 2-0 on the hour.

An excellent delivery from a corner from the left by Noble, Magnay gets a head on it from six yards but his contact is weak and it skims off his forehead and wide.

The usual retreat deep by the Pools’ lines did not happen - a distinct change under Hignett - as the home side continued to push for more. Hawkes continued to make space and Luke James caused issues with his clever runs down the left.

Skipper, top-scorer and talisman Noble was an influence throughout, more than justifying his first-team recall.

He struck the foot of the post on 74 after a clever jink to find space, he was tee’d up by James.

But as the changes came off the bench, it was one in particular that proved controversial.

Kitching was taken off with two minutes to go and replaced on the left by Conor Newton, who gave away a needless foul for the leveller. A chipped ball in saw Goodliffe score with his head at the back post.

Then, having dominated from start to 88th minute, Pools were hit on the break. Another burst down the left from the Daggers saw a cross find Robinson in space in the box and he scored a winner to complete a smash and grab raid.

A win would have taken Pools to within FIVE points of the top seven, they remain eight. This was a golden opportunity missed.