RICHARD MENNEAR’S ANALYSIS: Step in right direction for Hartlepool United

Joe Ironside celebrates after scoring his first goal for Pools against Oxford United. Picture by FRANK REID
Joe Ironside celebrates after scoring his first goal for Pools against Oxford United. Picture by FRANK REID

AFTER a wave of positive publicity off the pitch with new owners and a new manager hopes were high that a corner had been turned at Hartlepool United.

And after an improved all-round team display against Oxford United that hope remains. On the pitch at least.

Off it threatened to be an altogether different matter after Ronnie Moore confirmed to SportMail that Pools were considering a move for convicted rapist Ched Evans.

Cue pandemonium as the story hit national and international headlines.

The issued divided Pools fans, some in favour of him signing with many passionately against, including the town’s MP Iain Wright.

It certainly caused a major storm before the club confirmed yesterday afternoon that they would not be pursuing Evans.

On the pitch, Pools had dominated proceedings in the first-half but were left to rue failing to take any of the chances created.

Joe Ironside scored his first ever league goal to give Pools a deserved lead before Danny Hylton equalised on the 65 minute mark.

Pools, on first impressions under Moore, looked far more solid and compact as a team.

The main problem continuing to blight them though is the inability to score. Just 15 scored all season in Sky Bet League Two.

That is where Welshman Evans would have come in, to help solve the chronic goalscoring problem.

But, now that won’t be happening, the focus returns to whether or not Moore will be able to rescue Pools from relegation.

Saturday’s draw was a promising enough start but the gap to safety increased to seven points and with the goal difference of -24 it is effectively eight points.

Tranmere and York City picked up a point apiece while Carlisle United won to increase the pressure on Pools going into a busy Christmas week.

Pools, for their part, were well-organised and they bossed the U’s for the opening 45 minutes.

Moore had made four changes with Michael Woods and Sidney Schmeltz in plus Dan Jones alongside Matthew Bates in defence and Joe Ironside partnering Marlon Harewood.

He was forced into another change moments before kick-off when Matty Dolan pulled his hamstring in the warm-up and was replaced by Nicky Featherstone.

Dolan and his left foot are key to Pools and he also takes all of the set pieces so his loan spell ending prematurely is a major blow.

But Pools coped well with the last-minute reshuffle and created several good openings in the first half.

With a bigger home crowd than usual thanks to cut price tickets the feel-good factor was evident and Pools started brightly dominating possession.

Jones headed wide from close range from a Schmeltz corner, while Harewood made a right hash of an attempted chip from the edge of the area in the 14th minute.

Woods then went close in the 31st with a smart volley from the edge of the D, his effort was saved by Ryan Clarke who fumbled the ball before eventually claiming it.

Michael Appleton’s side were poor in comparison and it took until the 38th minute for the U’s to create a chance – dangerman Hylton with a poor header into the gloves of Scott Flinders from close range.

Then, two minutes before the break, Harewood missed a glorious chance to open the scoring.

He was played in by Franks but Clarke was quick off his line to spread himself and make the save as the half ended goalless.

As is too often the case Pools started the second-half poorly.

Both Hylton and Danny Rose had attempts on goal before the breakthrough finally came in the 53rd minute.

This time though it was Pools that opened the scoring.

Schmeltz with a pin-point ball over the top and with the U’s defence caught square, Ironside coolly picked his spot to give Pools the lead from the edge of the area.

It was a marvellous finish from the 21-year-old who worked hard all afternoon, not giving the visitors a breather.

Signed on loan by ex-boss Paul Murray, he certainly showed enough to warrant another start away to Mansfield Town on Boxing Day.

Despite taking the lead, a nervous Pools then sat back and invited pressure. Flinders, Neil Austin and Bates had to be alert to block a close-range Hylton attempt.

Speaking afterwards Moore revealed he had a row with his back four for sitting too deep.

He added: “My eyes aren’t pickled onions – I can see what’s happening.

“We had a set-to about it and we will sort that out today but there’s only one winner there that’s for sure.”

Moore was also far from happy with the way his side eventually conceded the equaliser in the 65th minute.

Wes Burns allowed to cross from the left towards the penalty spot were Hylton was first to the ball to sweep it past Flinders.

Oxford where then restricted to long-range attempts on goal as Pools forced their way back into the match, not collapsing like they had done seven days prior.

Jack Compton and Scott Fenwick gave the home side fresh legs and they almost won it in the 92nd minute.

Franks’ low shot was well struck from distance but Clarke just managed to get a glove to it and push it round the post for a corner. A fantastic save.

In the end both sides had to settle for a draw, a fair result overall and a base for Moore to build on.

They have stopped the five-match losing streak first and foremost.

This was a step in the right direction.

The next step is to get through Mansfield away and Morecambe at home and then bring in some much-needed recruits.

Pools fans wait with baited breath.