IF this was the dress rehearsal then the compere has a busy week making his final amendments.
There may well be signings in the offing and there may well be a week’s solid training before the curtain-raiser at Stevenage, but Hartlepool United’s first act of the season is not attracting an abundance of optimism.
A 1-1 draw at League One Bradford City to bookend the pre-season schedule is undeniably a good result.
Credit must be afforded to the solidity of Pools’ back line, in particular the shot-stopping of Scott Flinders and the hard-to-beat Matthew Bates and make shift centre-back Neil Austin.
Tommy Miller, playing his last game of his trial, rarely wasted a pass, while Brad Walker had his best game of pre-season – even if it was still short of his undoubtable ability.
Praise must also be awarded to Colin Cooper’s half-time talk because the attacking intensity that was devoid in the first-half and for much of the summer made the occasional appearances after the interval.
But the props for success – crosses and creating chances – are alarmingly too infrequent.
It is a well-rehearsed statement that Pools lack strength in depth. But what hasn’t been sounded much is Pools’ dearth of attacking prowess.
If they want to be a predator this season, if they want to mount a promotion push, then they need a puppeteer to pull the strings.
For at the moment Pools are too deep, too inoffensive and isolating their front men of Luke James and Marlon Harewood.
They are not supporting their attack.
The full-backs are not overlapping, the midfield is not pressing up the pitch and the wingers are struggling to impact.
And when Harewood and James do receive possession the ball is not remaining in their territory, thanks in large to the lack of assistance and also the former’s struggles in holding up the ball and bringing others into the game.
Stray passes – such as Bates’ long punt to Darren Holden who was only 20 yards away from him and Michael Duckworth’s throw that fell straight into the path of Mark Yeates on the outside of the box – can be attributed to pre-season rustiness.
It’s easy, but ill-judged, to use friendlies as a barometer of success for the ensuing season.
It is also easy to brush aside pre-season performances as a meaningless side note. Cooper cannot – and won’t - do that.
The negative tones resonated with Cooper, who admitted that during the week he feared his side were heading in a “negative, passive direction.”
He no longer believes his worries and he is right not to, for Pools are not going to be the prey of the league with a solid defence like they have.
But a promotion challenge will cease as quick as it begins if goals are not scored.
Oh, how Cooper needs a playmaker in the mould of Yeates or Billy Clarke whose directness brought purpose and excitement to the hosts’ attacking forays.
The dynamic duo dissected Austin and Bates early on, Billy Knott drawing a point-blank save from Flinders before Duckworth cleared off the line from James Hanson’s downwards header.
Sam Collins was withdrawn on 17 minutes after being struck in the back of the head by Gary Liddle’s powerful shot.
Collins was visibly shaken and spent the remainder of the match in the stands.
Yeates and Clarke advanced forward repeatedly but were restricted to 20-yard-plus chances.
Another nod to the resolute defence Cooper has installed at The Vic.
If he only he can marry that with a clinical attack.
Auditions from the current squad of players to become Pools’ chief creator have yet to be staged.
But Walker at least did his best rendition, ghosting in from midfield and side-footing Pools ahead after the hour mark.
Holden did well down the left and his square pass towards James scurried itself, purposefully, through the young striker and onto Walker who coolly slotted the opener.
Maybe advancing Walker further up the pitch, giving him a free role and allowing his other midfield comrades to sit back could be the solution?
Bradford rued their missed earlier chances, Yeates having been prevented by Austin’s body, Clarke hitting wide numerous times and Matty Dolan lofting a volley from 8-yards over the bar.
But they only dwelled for a minute. Clarke picked up a bouncing ball 18-yards out and volleyed past Flinders to restore parity.
Mo Sharrif volleyed a stunning 25-yard attempt in the dying embers of the game but his effort was matched by Flinders who dived to his right to deny a top-corner finish.
Five days until the curtains are drawn, there needs to be some inventory improvements if the opening act is to be the prelude to a positive season.
Bradford: Pickford, Darby, Davies, McArdle (Routis, 68), Sheehan; Liddle, Dolan (Meredith, 75), Knott (Kennedy, 75); Yeates (McBurnie, 68), Hanson, Clarke (Sharrif, 85) Subs not used: Urwin, Coulson, Hassall, Campion, Heaton.
Pools: Flinders, Duckworth, Collins (Holden, 17), Bates, Austin ; Parnaby (Richards, 71), Miller, Walker, Compton (Franks, 67), James; Harewood. Subs not used: Rafferty, Rowbotham, Nearney, Hawkins, Smith, Jones