Liam Kennedy's Hartlepool United analysis: SIX points dropped proving costly in promotion stakes

Matthew Bates.
Matthew Bates.

Hartlepool United could, and should, be top of the National League table after 11 games.

But, as things stand, they’re looking up at the leaders, rather than down at the pack.

Pools have thrown away SIX points from winning positions, twice giving away leads in the dying embers and this time letting two points slip with just 20 minutes on the clock.

This was not what was on the script. Having gone to Solihull and produced a performance and three points, a win against 19th placed Eastleigh seemed a safe bet.

It wasn’t to be. Frustration is the overriding emotion, reflecting back on the weekend result, an opportunity missed.

But, all told, doesn’t it reflect on the start Pools have made, and how far they have come as a club, that disappointment reigns supreme at the Super 6 Stadium. This would have been a solid point this time last season. It must not be forgotten that Eastleigh did the double over Pools last campaign.

On to the game itself Niko Muir bagged his third of the season to open the scoring for Pools but Paul McCallum levelled in the second period to ensure honours were even.

As a result, Pools drop to sixth in the fifth tier table and are now five points off Harrogate at the top of the division, as they head into an away day double-header at Halifax Town (next Saturday) and Salford City (a week on Tuesday).

As is the way lately, Matthew Bates resisted the temptation to change his side, sticking with the same XI who claimed three points at Solihull Moors.

Quiet in recent weeks - in fact, all season - Scott Loach was required to produce his best to keep the scores level early on as Cavanagh Miley rose highest in the area for Eastleigh, but the former England call up got down to his right to beat away what looked a certain goal.

Whatever Loach can do, so too can Graham Stack at the other end. Some neat play down the left saw Mark Kitching find top-scroer Liam Noble on the edge of the area, his shot looked set to set the net bulging but Stack pulled off a one-handed wonder save.

Almost immediately, though, Pools regrouped in attack and produced the opener.

Ryan Donaldson’s centre from the fight was inch perfect for Muir, who had the easiest of finishes from six yards. His third goal of the campaign.

Noble could, and should, have made it 2-0 shortly after. Luke James was tackled in the area but recovered well to dig a ball across to the midfielder while on the deck, and Noble, with the goal at his mercy, could do nothing but fire straight at Stack between the Eastleigh sticks.

And this was the way it remained at the break. Plenty of positives came from the opening 45, but there was negative, with provider of the first goal Donaldson pulling up with what looked like a hamstring problem. Given his form, Pools will hope this is not too serious.

Into the second half Pools remained on the front foot with Muir and James proving a thorn in the opposition’s side. And the change of Donaldson for Kenton Richardson seemed to do little to blunt Pools’ attacking threat down the right, with the youngster taking on the mantle of chief attacking threat.

As time wore on, though, Pools did not really threaten to add a second, and were pushed on to the back foot by the opposition, whose league place does not seemingly reflect the quality possessed within their ranks.

And they got the reward for their persistence when a cross from the right saw top-scorer McCallum nod a looping header past Loach for 1-1.

Buoyed by that blow, Pools went on the offensive and Stack was the man who kept them at bay, yet again. First he produced a brilliant reaction stop to tip over a Noble strike, before beating away a Paddy McLaughlin drive to keep the scores level.

But that’s the way it remained and Pools missed the opportunity to keep pace with Harrogate at the top and Wrexham below them, as they slipped two places down the National League table.