MATCH REPORT Peterborough 4 Hartlepool Utd 0

Joe Gamble is closed down.  Picture by FRANK REID
Joe Gamble is closed down. Picture by FRANK REID

JUST when you thought it was a case of the watertight defence being let down by the misfiring frontmen, the backline collapses like the proverbial pack of cards to give Mick Wadsworth a headache at both ends of the pitch.

Eight-nil reads the cumulative scoreline in favour of the opposition over Pools’ last four league games – that’s 381 minutes without a goal.

It took just six minutes, though, for Peterborough to put this game to bed courtesy of a ruthless treble strike.

The capitulation was akin to the New Year defeat at Notts County – the game which marked the start of this worrying slide.

It didn’t help matters when the previously solid Peter Hartley motioned to the dugout that he could no longer continue because of illness just a few minutes into the second half.

He was replaced by Armann Bjornsson – the makeshift centre-back who won rave reviews following Tuesday’s goalless draw at Bristol Rovers. But no such praise was bestowed upon his sizeable shoulders after this game.

It would be unfair to single out the Icelandic international, for there were a number whose second-half contribution fell short of satisfactory, but his introduction – or rather Hartley’s withdrawal – marked the turning point.

The first goal followed a game of head tennis inside the area which culminated in Craig Mackail-Smith delivering the winning stroke – a well-placed nod into the bottom corner from eight yards.

And, given Pools’ barren scoring spell of late, you always feared one home goal would be enough to win it.

Posh, though, refused to rest on that assumption and scored again 120 second later – and then again 180 seconds after that.

Could it be that the Pools defence, one of the best on the road in League One this season, succumbed to the pressure of knowing that without a clean sheet there is little chance of a points return?

Mick Wadsworth knows the issue needs to be addressed and he will do that this week with a loan signing, expected before tomorrow’s visit of Notts County.

Andy Monkhouse and Ritchie Humphreys were deployed in a 4-4-2 formation at London Road in a bid to solve the scoring conundrum.

The scoreline tells you the change of tactic failed to unearth an offensive solution, although the front two did work tirelessly.

Ten-goal top marksman Antony Sweeney had an off- day, spurning the opportunity to put Pools in front with a first-half header from barely six yards out, with Monkhouse the architect behind the delivery.

Nonetheless, it was a relief to see Pools once again carve out an opening which falls under that “gilt-edged” umbrella – for the midweek stalemate at Bristol Rovers passed without the home keeper being forced into a save of note, despite the visiting supremacy.

This blip – and let’s hope it is that – has seen Pools slip away from the chasing pack of promotion hopefuls.

Saturday’s game edged them beyond the halfway stage of the campaign and, should the second half of the season mirror the first in terms of points return, then a projected end-of-season tally of 66 would comfortably renew their League One membership for next term.

And, let’s face it, previous first-team carer Chris Turner didn’t expect that when assessing his side’s chances back in the summer.

That being the case, the current predicament is still relatively healthy – six points clear of the drop zone with seven of the next ten league games at Victoria Park.

And, for at least an hour at London Road on Saturday, you half-fancied Pools to steal another 1-0 victory.

After coping with an early spell of pressure which saw Mackail-Smith twice denied by Jake Kean, Pools found their rhythm and Leon McSweeney stung the palms of Joe Lewis from range before Monkhouse headed over from Neil Austin’s centre.

Then came the chance for Sweeney, one minute before the break, Monkhouse dropping an inch-perfect cross on to his unmarked brow only for, as Wadsworth put it afterwards, “Toblerone” head to put it well wide.

Even after half-time, Pools started brightly and both McSweeney, again from distance, and Monkhouse, again with a header, threatened to break the deadlock.

And so arrived a blurry six minutes of defensive devastation in which the visitors masqueraded as a team devoid of basic principles such as marking, tackling and simply clearing the football.

Mackail-Smith set the ball rolling with his header on 62 minutes, Tommy Rowe steamed in to tuck home the rebound after Kean had turned George Boyd’s deflected shot onto the bar and Lee Tomiln was afforded the freedom of the Pools penalty area to head a third from Mackail-Smith’s centre.

James Wesolowski added a fourth in stoppage time after yet more haphazard defending allowed the Australian midfielder to blast in the loose ball from a set-piece delivery.

Having folded like that aforementioned pack of cards, it’s now the job of Wadsworth to reshuffle and put together a new hand ahead of the make-or-break run of home games.

The question remains, though, can he find a diamond goalscorer from another club with the heart to resurrect Pools’ season?