Northampton Town 2 Hartlepool United 0: Roy Kelly’s Hartlepool Mail match report

MISERABLE DAY: Brad Walker and Christian Burgess at the end of the game against Northampton Town. Picture by FRANK REID
MISERABLE DAY: Brad Walker and Christian Burgess at the end of the game against Northampton Town. Picture by FRANK REID

FROM the sublime to the ridiculous?

Not quite. But Hartlepool United went from matching – and more than matching – teams at the top end of the division like Scunthorpe United, Dagenham & Redbridge, Newport County and Southend to losing to Sky Bet League Two’s worst team.

Management, players and the hardy band of fans at Sixfields will still be scratching their heads today wondering how.

It all went wrong for Pools from the moment when Michael Duckworth went down in agony six minutes into his comeback.

The find of the season and, until his injury woe, a contender for player of the year, was stretchered off.

Northampton got the first goal deep into the minutes added on at the end of the first half for his treatment, Mathias Kouo-Doumbe forcing the ball in from close range.

Goal number two arrived just 65 seconds into the second half, Brennan Dickenson also netting from inside the six-yard box.

Pools offered little, though Simon Walton was unlucky to hit the post and Luke Williams had a screamer turned away by Matt Duke on his Pools farewell before returning to Middlesbrough.

Other than that it was grim stuff. Very grim.

So what happened?

Was it one game too far after that gruelling run against teams at the top?

Was it one journey too far after a week when Pools clocked up almost 1,000 miles?

Was it the spirited strugglers finding some life under a new boss?

Was it the dreadful conditions which prevented Pools from playing any football?

It was probably a combination of all of the above.

Boss Colin Cooper apologised for the display afterwards, which was very noble of him. Not many managers do that.

He did not look for excuses and probably summed up the afternoon perfectly in one word – “flat”.

Pools began in sprightly fashion and you instantly thought ‘this is going to be good’.

But Luke James incisive run up the right channel to win a second-minute corner was a false dawn.

The corner from Jack Barmby, brought into the starting XI for Andy Monkhouse, was terrible and that was symptomatic of the next 88 minutes.

Occasional moments of promise, very occasional it has to be said, followed by something going wrong.

It has to be noted that there is no accusation of a lack of effort.

The players tried, it simply was the case that it was one of those afternoons when nothing was going to go right.

This reporter writing in SportMail on Friday – writing badly as it now turns out – saw no way that Pools could lose to the Cobblers.

However, and this is a lesson to more than just a poor journalist, it can happen and it did.

Credit must be paid to Northampton Town.

They scored two and had decent chances to score two or three more.

You can see Chris Wilder has put his own autograph on Northampton Town straight away.

Not only has he changed more than half the team you can see some of the old Oxford United traits already.

Those who recall Oxford at Victoria Park earlier in the season may remember how they did not give Pools a second’s peace.

His Cobblers side did exactly the same and they were well worth their victory.

Their football was not great, but they adapted to the conditions and got the ball into the away net twice and kept it out of their own. Job done.

No area of the Pools game functioned to any degree.

The early departure of Duckworth and the painful manner of his exit will not have helped Pools.

But it was no real excuse. Many problems thrown up by Northampton came from the opposite flank and Pools old boy Leon McSweeney and Chris Hackett swung over excellent crosses from the right.

Aside from Emile Sinclair’s overhead kick in the 39th minute which Scott Flinders held comfortably, the Pools keeper was untroubled though John Maquis had put one over the bar after a sharp turn.

Flinders though was beaten five minutes into added time.

Darren Holden conceded a free-kick for a foul on McSweeney near the by-line. At first, Hackett’s free-kick seemed too heavy but it picked out Joe Widdowsom at the far side of the box.

His ball back across caught Pools at sixes and sevens andKouo-Doumbe beat two Pools defenders from a couple of yards out

It got worse for Pools as the Cobblers made it 2-0 just 65 seconds into the second half.

Hackett beat Holden by the right corner flag and his delivery across the face of the goal was me by Dickenson in the centre of the six-yard box, the midfielder getting in between Sam Collins and Richards to head in from two yards.

Given the talent Pools had on the park – and on the bench – you thought (and hoped) the away side could still comeback and salvage a point.

Alas not.

Walton hit the keeper’s right-hand post and there were a couple of promising moves down the right involving Walton, Williams and Holden.

Williams at least forced Duke to use his gloves with two shots though both lacked any venom.

Cooper even threw on two subs, Jonathan Franks and Jack Compton, for Marlon Harewood and Barmby.

Even though both huffed and puffed neither could spark Pools into life.

Pools got no where near Duke’s goal and the final whistle came as a relief and another struggler awaits this Saturday – Torquay United.

At least the Vic will produce a surface more conducive for their football.

But the players must rediscover their zest, otherwise it could be another testing afternoon.