Liam Kennedy’s match analysis: Shambolic Pools have got no bottle

Trevor Carson saves the first-half penalty
Trevor Carson saves the first-half penalty

Unacceptable. Men against boys. Spineless. Just some of the criticisms thrown at Hartlepool United’s players by manager Craig Hignett in the run-up to Saturday’s clash with Cambridge United.

Hearing such barbs from any man, never mind your manager, should spark some kind of reaction from any player.

Who on earth would want to sign a player with ability but no heart?

Well, it did. Just not the reaction Hartlepool United, Poolies, or Hignett expected.

Instead of putting fire in the belly of his troops, it only succeeded in making them much more likely to surrender.

Pools showed an absolute lack of fight, battle and character in the five-goal hammering at the Northern Gas & Power Stadium.

This is a very real concern for the fans, the management team, who if this continues will end up out of a job, and the board, who if they are not careful could oversee the first ever relegation from the Football League by this proud club.

In recent weeks characters have been called into question. Individuals have been singled out, both behind closed doors, and openly in the media. Home truths have been dished out in clear the air talks.

None of the above tactics have been even close to stoking the fire at Pools.

A second half performance like what was witnessed by a dwindling home support at the Vic on Saturday can draw only a number of conclusions, all of which are negative.

Have the players given up? Are they no longer playing for the manager?

This could well be the case. It certainly looked like it in the second 45.

But speak to any one of them and they will tell you this conclusion is ludicrous.

Are the players simply not good enough?

Well, January could be a telling factor in this.

It will be interesting to see how many clubs from divisions above, or even the fourth tier, want the players Pools will be offering up for sale.

We hear, week-in, week-out, that there is quality in the Pools squad. Josh Laurent will be wanted by this and that club, Nathan Thomas is the best player in the division, Toto Nsiala has a big future ahead of him, etc, etc.

Now while Thomas will almost certainly not be short of suitors, the rest, on yesterday’s showing could find themselves stuck.

As for Nsiala, he put in one of the worst defensive performances I have ever seen.

He missed everything, failed to mark anyone, gave away one of the most needless penalties you are ever likely to see and gave Matthew Bates, who turned 30 on Saturday, the kindest of birthday gifts - making him do the work of two central defenders, never mind one.

I digress. Back to yesterday, could it be that Pools have the quality, but confidence levels have dropped?

Well, it would be no shock to hear confidence levels are low in the ranks.

But that is absolutely no excuse for the pitiful performance put in at the weekend.

And that brings me on to my take on proceedings.

To me, it looked like far too many of Pools players had given up. Too many of them seemed happy to surrender.

Not one of them was playing for the badge, for the club, or even for their own personal pride.

In fact, that’s a bit unfair on keeper Trevor Carson, who could do little about what was going on in front of him, bar watch in utter disbelief.

There needs to be a realisation that no matter whether they like the club they play for, agree with the manager in charge, care about the fans on the terraces or any other factor, they should care about themselves.

Few players who wore the famous blue and white on Saturday can truly look at themselves in the mirror and say they gave their absolute everything v Cambridge. Few can even say they got close.

If they don’t want to play for Hartlepool anymore, then fine. If they no longer want to play for Hignett, that is acceptable also.

But there is something in the description PROFESSIONAL footballer. Professionalism is key.

Pools showed an utter disregard for that value at the weekend.

In collapsing from level terms at the break, a game in which they had been the better of the two sides, despite Luke Berry seeing a spot-kick saved by Carson, to four goals down in the space of 19 second half minutes, they laid their souls bare for all to see.

Not just Pools fans, or the manager, or the board, but also the hierarchy and bosses of any potential future employer.

Who on earth would want to sign a player with ability but no heart?

There are a million and one players like that, very few of them play in the Football League, or are full-time pros.

Sadly if Pools reproduce this kind of show too often then that is where many of these players are headed - non-league football.

We just have to hope that is elsewhere, and not with Pools’ badge on their shirt.

I sincerely hope one or two players in the dressing-room read this, and it angers them.

Prove me wrong. Stick this on the walls of the training ground. Show some pride. Show some passion.
Football is a simple game and fans don’t really ask a lot.

No one is asking for players to turn into world-beaters, but they need to make it look like they are trying.