RICHARD MENNEAR’S ANALYSIS: Hartlepool Utd must find their spark after Middlesbrough defeat

Marlon Harewood in action for Hartlepool United against Middlesbrough. Picture by FRANK REID
Marlon Harewood in action for Hartlepool United against Middlesbrough. Picture by FRANK REID

IT was ironic really that on a night when Victoria Park descended into darkness, manager Colin Cooper was left hoping his player’s quickly find their “spark” before the action begins for real.

The floodlight failure was down to a half-time power cut in the Clarence Road area and they never came back on, with the game finishing almost in darkness.

But it won’t be the lighting troubling Cooper. He has more pressing matters to consider with the new campaign now just 10 days away.

Pools sat off Middlesbrough last night – who easily won 2-0 – and gifted them far too much possession, which allowed them all the time in the world to create chances.

Cooper said afterwards he wanted his side to be more assertive in the final two pre-season matches – away to Bradford City Saturday followed by a trip to Spennymoor Town next Monday.

Another cause for concern is the worrying lack of goal threat in the Pools first-team at present.

In their last three matches – excluding Whitby Town which saw a number of younger players in the team – Pools have managed just one goal and that was against Bradford Park Avenue.

The other two matches have seen a 3-0 defeat to Sunderland and a 2-0 defeat to Middlesbrough. No disgrace in losing to either side, who play in the Premier League and Championship respectively, but the lack of goal threat and attacking play is a concern.

The younger players, in particular, don’t look as sharp as usual.

That is probably down to the workload being put on the current squad, which desperately needs reinforcements before the League Two curtain raiser away at Stevenage on August 9.

Speaking afterwards, Cooper admitted: “Even our younger players look a little leggy at the moment, four and half weeks into pre-season.

“Hopefully they will find their spark in the next 10 days or so.”

There was plenty of links between the two sides last night, with Cooper and new assistant Stephen Pears in the Pools dugout both former players and coaches at Boro, while Craig Hignett returned to Victoria Park, as Number 2 to Aitor Karanka, after leaving Pools in March.

On the pitch, Matthew Bates, Stuart Parnaby and Jonathan Greening started against the side they have all played for previously, while the Boro starting line-up included ex-Pools keeper Dimi Konstantopoulos and Christian Burgess and Luke Williams, who both enjoyed loan spells at the club last season.

It is fair to say Greening didn’t shine last night, playing centrally in midfield alongside Walker and Parnaby, but he was steady and tidy in possession in the main.

Pools were on the back foot so much that he rarely got into the Boro half but Cooper has been chasing him all summer and will be keen to extend his stay at the club.

Cooper is looking to play the 35-year-old away at Bradford City in order to make a further assessment and he hopes trialist Tommy Miller will also be fit to play – the likelihood is the pair are competing with each other for a contract.

Miller was watching from the press box last night, as Pools were beaten fair and square.

Second-half goals from substitutes Adam Reach and Bradley Fewster secured the win for Boro who included new signings Kike and James Husband alongside experienced midfielders Dean Whitehead and Grant Leadbitter.

It took Boro just 90 seconds to create their first opening.

Albert Adomah taking advantage of a poor Scott Flinders clearance to play in Kike. His first time effort struck the foot of the right-hand post.

Adomah and Williams were causing Pools problems down the right-hand flank, with Darren Holden put under increasing pressure.

In the 14th minute, a whipped in Leadbitter free-kick was just about dealt with by Flinders who palmed it away for a Boro corner.

Boro were creating the better of the chances and Flinders was again called into action to make a smart save from Williams, who found himself free in the area.

The Pools defence were holding firm though, Matthew Bates in particular was excellent throughout, alongside Neil Austin who also impressed.

Pools had their first real chance at goal in the 20th minute, Brad Walker and Marlon Harewood combining well, with the latter playing in Jack Compton on the right-wing. He cut inside but blasted his shot high over the bar.

Boro winger Andy Halliday then fired an effort in at goal in the 27th minute but it was straight at Flinders who dealt with it comfortably, while Kike also had Flinders stretching eight minutes later - his curled 25-yard effort inches wide of the post.

Compton again went close up the other end but his deflected shot was straight at Konstantopoulos.

The half-time power cut cast The Vic into darkness and for most of the second-half the Pools players were chasing shadows, well, they would have been if there had been any cast by the floodlights.

Halliday again forced Flinders into a smart stop diving to his right, but in the 51st minute Boro went ahead.

Halliday’s cross into the box was powered home by sub Reach who climbed above Austin 10-yards out, giving Flinders no chance with the towering header.

Williams and Leadbitter then tried their luck before Boro made it 2-0 in the 71st minute.

Left-back Husband bombed down the left hand side and whipped in a pin-point cross onto the head of the onrushing sub Fewster - who powered the header past Flinders.

Two goals from crosses and afterwards Cooper was not a happy man.

Parnaby was subbed after taking a slight knock and Boro could have extended their lead – Reach wrapping his boot around a sublime effort from 20-yards out which flew just past the right-hand post of Flinders.

Boro were fully deserving of the win and Cooper will be hoping to shed a little light on the problems facing Pools over the next 10 crucial days.

Pools (4-4-2): Flinders, Duckworth, Austin, Bates, Holden, Greening, Parnaby (Rowbotham, 73), Walker, James, Harewood, Compton (Franks 61).

Subs: Rafferty, Collins, Smith, Richards, Jones.

Star Man: Matthew Bates

Middlesbrough (4-2-3-1): Konstantopolous, Bennett, Husband, Burgess, Hines, Whitehead (Morris 74), Leadbitter, Adomah (Reach, 46), Kike (Fewster, 68), Williams, Halliday (Atkinson, 72).

Subs: Gibson, Tomlin, Mejias.

Goal: Reach (51) Fewster (71)

Referee: Tony Harrington (Hartlepool)