MATCH REPORT: Pools’ Christmas gift for fellow strugglers

Scott Flinders lays on the ground as Pools players look on after Carlisle United take a 2-0 lead over Hartlepool United. Picture by FRANK REID
Scott Flinders lays on the ground as Pools players look on after Carlisle United take a 2-0 lead over Hartlepool United. Picture by FRANK REID

CARLISLE United were a club in crisis.

They had lost six in seven.

Manager, Greg Abbott, was under pressure, even snapping at local reporters following one recent defeat.

Their players had been jeered from the field.

They were shipping goals at one end and struggling to score more than one at the other.

But then came the visit of Hartlepool United – if ever there was a window for a gift-wrapped-three-points cliché then this is it.

A home victory for the first time since October.

A clean sheet for the first time since September, three goals scored.

Abbott in jovial mood when it came to post-match reflections.

The players cheered from the field.

That’s what Pools can do for fellow strugglers right now.

They aren’t just the worst team in their division, they’re the worst team in the country and, according to the winless stretch of 22 matches, the worst in the club’s 104-year history.

It’s a desperate situation.

The players aren’t good enough.

Every team they come up against boast better players, far better players.

How has it come to this?

The players remain in something of a honeymoon period when it comes to new boss John Hughes, for he refuses to criticise them in public.

In private, who knows?

But yesterday they deserved criticism.

Forget about encouraging starts – yes, Jonathan Franks did clip the crossbar after four minutes but once the first goal went in there was only one outcome.

It was inevitable, how many times have we said that this season?

That the scourge of Pools was to prove a man who, three seasons ago, was deemed not good enough by some sections to remain at Victoria Park only serves to highlight the club’s demise.

Matty Robson was the star of the show.

It was his 25-yard drive which cannoned off the nose of Sam Collins and into the bottom corner to open the scoring on 21 minutes.

By the half-hour mark he had added a second.

Liam Noble’s floated corner should have posed no danger, but it did.

Scott Flinders twice flapped at it, dropping into a crowded six-yard area and it was Robson who reacted quickest.

Game over.

Pools have scored twice away from home on just one occasion this season, and Brentford put both of them through their own net.

Nearly 500 fans had journeyed to Cumbria.

How depressing then that, after just 26 minutes, they already knew their fate.

There was a mini-rally around the hour mark which amounted to an Andy Monkhouse shot which was saved and a Charlie Wyke header which flashed wide.

But Carlisle soon broke and made it three, Robson burning by Jordan Richards before dropping a far-post cross on to the brow of the unmarked Lee Miller who nodded home.

Unmarked? Miller is Carlisle’s centre-forward, not a centre-back timing an ambitious forward run to perfection.

It could have been more but for the saves of Flinders who went some way to redeeming that earlier error.

But there were poor performances all over the park.

Collins is apparently a natural captain who doesn’t need an armband to demonstrate those qualities, yet he continues to offer no leadership to a team sadly lacking in character.

Peter Hartley was rusty, Richards exposed, Tony Sweeney anonymous, Monkhouse likewise.

Meanwhile, the time has surely come for Hughes to explore other avenues in attack, for Steve Howard is struggling to exert any influence, let alone score a goal.

And then to the substitutes.

Afterwards, a group of the unused reserves stood in torrential rain on the pitch for at least 10 minutes waiting for instruction as to what to do next.

It was a sorry end to another sorry day.

Pools are a club in crisis.

Carlisle United used to be, that was until yesterday.