MATCH REPORT: Pools showing signs of improvement

ON A WING AND A PRAYER: Jack Compton in action down the left against Whitby. Picture by FRANK REID
ON A WING AND A PRAYER: Jack Compton in action down the left against Whitby. Picture by FRANK REID

THERE were goals, there were chances, too.

It was, for now, a step in the right direction.

Yes, the opposition reside some three divisions beneath Pools, but the visitors looked threatening throughout.

A definite improvement on that front when compared to one goal in three hours during the recent tour of Holland.

The identity of the scorers would also have been of comfort to boss Colin Cooper.

One – Antony Sweeney – the would-be skipper whose goals so drastically dried up last season.

The other – Nialle Rodney – a trialist seizing his chance to impress.

Positives, however, stretched beyond those moments.

Goalkeeper Scott Flinders appeared for the first time since the end of last season.

His clean sheet was never in doubt and kicking, rather than catching or clawing, was his key task here.

Another trialist, Bradford Park Avenue’s Michael Duckworth, is worthy of loftier mention than a mere footnote and the 20-year-old right-back impressed during the opening 45 minutes.

Cooper has been advised that the player is worthy of a grander stage than the Conference North, whether that will be League Two with Pools remains to be seen.

Neil Austin and Jordan Richards – a pair of well-capable full-backs – could be his biggest obstacle.

And then there was the belated appearance of Steve Howard, the striker pulling on the club’s colours for the first time since a loan stint at Sheffield Wednesday.

The 37-year-old is still likely to leave Victoria Park this summer and this second-half cameo at least proves to would-be suitors that any fitness fears have been allayed.

Should Howard exit then Cooper will be freed funds to strengthen an attacking unit which he, and everyone else for that matter, agrees is in need of reinforcement.

Until then Cooper, whose side face Middlesbrough at the Vic on Saturday, will work with the personnel at his disposal and, last night at least, there was a final-third improvement.

From the off Pools set after their hosts and a Jonathan Franks centre only evaded the toe of Luke James by a matter of inches, the striker steaming in just yards from goal.

Franks, rather than the left-sided Jack Comtpon, was proving the chief outlet for Pools.

And it was from his delivery that Sweeney opened the scoring on 11 minutes.

The midfielder, again wearing the armband, admits that his meagre goals return has frustrated in the past two seasons, and Cooper will be hoping that this trademark finish is a sign of things to come.

Arriving in the penalty box right on cue, Sweeney swept a first-time volley into the bottom corner.

And the same pair combined on the half-hour mark when Sweeney headed over from 10 yards.

There was mass change at the break, Howard now partnering Rodney in attack.

James Poole was arguably the star turn during the second period and it was from his incisive throughball that Rodney raced clear and poked home on 57 minutes.

Perhaps the goal will not be enough to secure a permanent stay and the initial impression of Rodney is one of raw as opposed to refined, but the 22-year-old, with two of Pools’ three pre-season strikes to date, boasts a knack that others do not.

The departure - or not - of Howard could well determine Rodney’s future.

Howard himself twice went closing to netting, first seeing a close-range blast repelled by former Pools goalkeeper Mark Cook before defender Kevin Burgess hooked his low poke over the crossbar.

Cooper’s post-game reflection amounted to “some good, some bad, but an improvement on last time”.

Of the not-so-pleasing aspects – poor execution in dangerous areas as well as anchorman Simon Walton operating in too deep a territory perhaps gave the boss something to mull over.

But it was better.

And that, says Cooper, is all he can ask at this stage.

All eyes to Saturday then.

Pools First Half: Flinders, Duckworth, Collins, Baldwin, Holden, Franks, Walton, Sweeney, Compton, Monkhouse, James.

Pools Second Half: Flinders (Rafferty 78), Austin, Richards, Hartley, Jones, Walker, Rowbotham, Poole, Hawkins, Rodney, Howard.