MATCH REPORT: Welcome to Hartlepool, Yogi

The scoreboard at the end of the game showing HUFC 0-5 Coventry City. Picture by FRANK REID
The scoreboard at the end of the game showing HUFC 0-5 Coventry City. Picture by FRANK REID

WELCOME to Hartlepool.

By the time John Hughes had made his way to the post-match press conference, he had heard that quip on several occasions, each time delivered with sympathy rather than sarcasm.

The Scot, spurred by self-confidence and perhaps an element of naivety, had declared just three days earlier “let teams worry about us”.

Sadly, this current crop of players simply aren’t good enough to exact such a bold statement.

Instead, Hughes, by his own admission, will now have to devise a game-plan geared towards getting the best out of the players he has inherited.

And he’ll have to do it in double-quick time.

It’s commonly thought that at least 50 points are required to renew your League One status – were Pools to continue at their current rate they’d finish the campaign 30 short of that target.

Hughes is the last hope.

He said today that he’s willing to carry the can for Saturday’s aberration.

In fairness, however, he can be apportioned no blame, these players have been putting in dire performances of this ilk for some time – ask Mick Wadsworth, Neale Cooper and Micky Barron.

Hughes is charged with the task of succeeding where others have tried valiantly yet ultimately failed, it’s an unenviable job, hence the sympathetic welcome.

He admits that he did not want to arrive at Victoria Park with any preconceived ideas about his squad and so refrained from investigation.

After just 90 minutes he will be in no doubt as to the scale of the problems which exist.

It had been hoped that Hughes’ unveiling would inspire the previously uninspirable.

And it did – for 20 minutes.

But, as has been scribed on these very pages already this season, football matches are played over 90 minutes and Pools have yet to produce a decent display from start to finish.

Of that opening period, Ryan Noble drew a couple of saves from Joe Murphy, likewise Jonathan Franks.

But then, the inevitable unfolded.

A dearth of ideas in the final third, no legs in the middle of the park and a complete abdication of responsibility at the back.

That doesn’t make for good reading.

It makes for even worse viewing.

The second half was just 14 minutes old by the time Coventry had made the points theirs having plundered a quick-fire treble.

John Hughes sat through the DVD of the collapse yesterday, he’s a brave man.

He would have seen Carl Baker wander free of the labouring Paul Murray before directing low into the bottom corner from 25 yards, little sign of resistance from any in blue and white.

Franck Moussa was then afforded the freedom of the penalty area to size a curling shot which was headed for goal until the arm of Peter Hartley intervened, David McGoldrick tucking home from the penalty spot.

Number three saw Darren Holden get caught underneath a far-post cross and so allowed the impressive Baker to control, spin and fire through the weak grasp of Scott Flinders.

The fourth was perhaps the most galling of all, James Bailey galloping fully 40 yards unchallenged before rolling effortlessly into Moussa, again on his own in the area, and he arrowed low beyond the exposed Flinders.

And finally, Hughes will watch as visiting substitute Adam Barton buries a fifth with his first touch after Pools’ defence had only half cleared a danger-zone delivery.

It will make for painful viewing but at least the new manager has, in the space of just 45 minutes’ footage, evidence of the failings which have made the first third of the season the disaster it has been.

Sam Collins and Hartley, the pair who have worn the armband this season, have lost all semblance of a partnership which, in fairness, has flourished on occasion.

Now, they’re playing like the last picks in the playground, thrown together at the back – it’s an alarming loss of form.

They weren’t helped, though, by those in front and either side.

Neil Austin reverted to the type of performance which saw him dropped by Cooper earlier in the campaign.

Holden was up against a smart opponent in Cyrus Christie but struggled, while Murray, Ritchie Humphreys and Antony Sweeney could not get near their midfield counterparts.

Noble, Franks and James Poole were exciting in patches but anonymous for the large part.

All in all, it was a despairing display – but not one which should shock the hardened observer.

And that was the message of those who greeted Hughes after Saturday’s game.

Welcome to Hartlepool.