Richard Mennear’s Analysis: Hartlepool pay the price for poor finishing and awful defending

Billy Paynter in action for Pools against Luton Town
Billy Paynter in action for Pools against Luton Town

The sound of boos ringing around Victoria Park on the final whistle has become a regular occurrence in recent seasons.

But it hasn’t happened too often during Ronnie Moore’s tenure.

Hartlepool United were beaten 4-1 by Luton Town

Hartlepool United were beaten 4-1 by Luton Town

Yet back-to-back home defeats, seven goals conceded and another shoddy defensive display left pockets of fans venting their frustration.

The 4-1 defeat to Luton Town, on paper, looks like a hammering.

Yet, for large periods, especially in the first half, Pools dominated.

But for a worrying combination of suicidal defending and poor finishing they should have won.

Instead, Rakish Bingham was having another off day and the defensive duo of Scott Harrison and Andrew Boyce were all at sea.

And when you can’t finish and can’t defend, there is only going to be one outcome.

So it proved, with clinical Luton taking the most of the chances they created.

It left Moore feeling “gobsmacked” and angry. Stunned his side hadn’t managed to take advantage of more than one of the 17 chances created.

And fuming that the Hatters were able to take advantage with such ease.

Two quick-fire goals by sub Jack Marriott after the break stunned Pools. There was to be no way back.

Of the seven goals conceded in the defeats to Bristol Rovers and Luton, six were of Pools’ own making.

And, as Moore admitted afterwards, if they cannot find an answer to their defensive frailties quickly, then what started as a promising season could well turn into another dogfight at the wrong end of the table.

The players were again dragged in yesterday, with Moore keen to start work early ahead of a testing trip to Northampton Town on Saturday.

And while there are major concerns, it is far from panic stations just yet.

What sets this Pools side apart from last season’s is that they are at least creating chances and testing the opposition.

Too often last season defeat seemed inevitable as soon as the other side took the lead.

But Pools are carving out some good openings, with Bingham creating most of his own chances. Yet, after doing the hard work, he was unable to finish.

It led to another frustrating afternoon, with restless fans desperate for Pools to regain their early season form.

Pools flew out the blocks in August, winning three straight league matches but since have managed just one more win and now sit 17th in League Two.

Last week’s win away at Yeovil Town was supposed to be the catalyst but successive defeats has set Moore’s side back.

How do they turn it around from here?

The 4-4-2 formation is certainly worth pursuing with at home, with Connor Smith and Rhys Oates two of the standout players on the wings.

Away from home, Moore is likely to revert to his favoured 4-3-3.

But big question marks remain over Boyce, the Scunthorpe United loanee who was again far from convincing, looking uncomfortable at the back.

Moore has been working hard to bring in further cover, both in midfield and defence, and new recruits are needed to add some quality.

With Carl Magnay facing a pending six-game ban after being found guilty of spitting after being sent off in the defeat at Wycombe Wanderers, Moore will be short again in midfield.

Video evidence shows Magnay did spit, but it was on the ground and not in the direction of the crowd and Pools are expected to receive the written evidence behind Magnay’s ban early this week before deciding their next step.

Moore was reluctant to talk about the issue post-match, with the club likely to appeal but Magnay will prove a big miss if an appeal fails.

Magnay was part of a revamped midfield, with Pools eager to make up for the 3-0 defeat to Bristol Rovers.

And they were at Luton from the off.

Their first sight on goal came after less than three minutes, Billy Paynter flicking the ball on to Bingham on the edge of the area.

He had time and space but flashed wide of the left-hand post.

Bingham then forced Mark Tyler into a comfortable save before Oates shot wide of the same post.

It was all Pools but it was Luton that took the lead 17 minutes in. Adam Bartlett parried Luke Guttridge’s shot and the ball fell to Jonathan Smith who fired in from close range.

Hatters dangerman Craig Mackail-Smith was taken off with a hamstring injury 90 seconds before Pools should have levelled.

Bingham again in on goal but Tyler produced a smart save to palm the ball over.

Eventually the breakthrough came a minute before half-time, Oates providing the cross for captain Paynter to nod home.

Pools had dominated and should have been leading but within 12 minutes of the restart found themselves 3-1 down.

Sub Marriott took advantage of a long ball forward and easily beat Harrison for pace before slotting the ball underneath Bartlett before Brad Halliday’s miss-kick then allowed Guttridge time and space to cross for Marriott’s second.

Up the other end, Bingham was again involved but Tyler was alert to deny him his fourth clear effort on goal. Poor finishing was costing Pools.

Another chance came and went in the 77th minute, Bingham again clean through but denied by Tyler, while sub Nicky Featherstone blasted wide.

Luton’s Ollie Lee unleashed a superb 20-yard volley to wrap up the win late on.

In the end, a miserable day at the office for Pools, who need a sharp improvement at both ends of the pitch.