RICHARD MENNEAR’S MATCH ANALYSIS: Hartlepool United still very much a work in progress after Stevenage defeat

Ryan Brobbel is brought down in the penalty area Stevenage. Photograph by FRANK REID
Ryan Brobbel is brought down in the penalty area Stevenage. Photograph by FRANK REID

THIS Hartlepool United team is still very much a work in progress.

Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Stevenage certainly wasn’t for a lack of effort, enthusiasm or hard work with plenty of those characteristics on show.

Neil Austin in action against Stevenage. Photograph by FRANK REID

Neil Austin in action against Stevenage. Photograph by FRANK REID

The Pools defence, and Scott Flinders in particular, excelled and looked a solid unit for the most part.

Sam Collins, 37, hadn’t featured much in pre-season but was called on to partner new captain Matthew Bates in the centre and what they lack in pace they make up for in experience, timing and ability to read the game.

If, as expected, Colin Cooper manages to bring back Boro defender Christian Burgess on loan then that will only strengthen the options available.

Burgess would form a pretty formidable partnership with Bates.

Matty Bates in action against Stevenage. Photograph by FRANK REID

Matty Bates in action against Stevenage. Photograph by FRANK REID

Hartlepool United’s problems though lie further up the pitch.

The midfield, marshalled by returning old boy Tommy Miller, were sloppy in possession and once again lacked creativity and pace.

In fairness, there was more width, with Jack Compton and Stuart Parnaby hugging the touchlines far more than in recent games.

But Pools didn’t do much with it when they had the opportunity, with too many long balls punted up field towards James and Parnaby doesn’t look completely comfortable as a right winger.

The end result was that strikers Marlon Harewood and Luke James - who played the full 90 minutes despite being strongly linked with a big-money move to Peterborough United - were feeding off scraps again and Pools didn’t manage a single shot on target.

Cooper’s side looked far more dangerous when he brought on Jonathan Franks and Boro loanee Ryan Brobbel.

The Hartlepool-born winger, in particular, looked energetic and eager to impress and should have earned his side a penalty in the 95th minute.

Referee Mark Haywood waved away the frantic appeals though for what looked - and heard - like a clear foul.

He added pace, playing down the right flank in the main, and could well be worth a starting place in the coming games.

So, as you’d expect just one game into the new campaign, there is still a lot for Cooper’s squad to be working on and some additional attacking recruits look essential if this side is to achieve anything this season.

Saturday was always going to be a tough assignment against a side relegated from League One last season, and one that has seen major reconstruction work with more than a dozen new signings and 20 players leaving the club.

Maybe defeat shouldn’t come as a surprise, seeing as though Hartlepool United have never beaten Stevenage and Graham Westley’s side were at Pools from the off at the Lamex Stadium.

Their front pairing of Adam Marriott and Darius Charles proved a real handful - Charles in particular made sure Bates and Collins knew they were in for a physical afternoon’s work in a feisty encounter.

It was a frantic start to proceedings in Hertfordshire.

The first opportunity fell to Compton who received the ball from Harewood before clipping the crossbar with a lovely curled effort in only the second minute.

Stevenage - who had suspended ex-Pools midfielder Simon Walton watching on - had their first sight on goal through Marriott but his 20-yard strike was straight at Flinders.

Charlie Lee and Charles went close for the home side, the latter curling an effort just wide of Flinders’ left hand post with 15 minutes gone.

Pools, at times, were sloppy in possession against a dangerous Stevenage side who needed no excuse to bomb forward and in the 20th minute should have taken the lead.

Charles beat Bates for pace down the left-flank and passed across goal towards the onrushing Marriott. It looked a certain goal but the combination of Walker and a sliding Sam Collins denied the frontman.

In the 38th minute, a clever free-kick routine saw Lee roll the ball towards Marriott who found himself with just enough space to shoot at goal.

Thankfully, Flinders was again in the right place and produced a strong block.

Tempers flared as the half wore on, with Compton clashing with Jon Ashton and then James fell to the floor after an off-the-ball incident with Harry Worley at the back for Stevenage.

Parnaby saw a late effort float high over the bar as the sides went into the break level. Westley’s men again started the half strongly.

With 55 minutes on the clock, Flinders had to produce an even better block, this time diving to his left to deny Marriott - the Stevenage striker missing several good chances.

The Pools stopper also denied Charles with a smart flying save to his right before the home side eventually took the lead.

The defence failed to clear the ball and it eventually fell to Chris Whelpdale 20-yards out.

His low strike bounced just before Flinders and into the back of the net to put Boro 1-0 up in the 60th minute.

You couldn’t say the home side didn’t deserve the lead and from then on they then closed out the game with good affect.

Cooper then turned to his subs bench to liven up proceedings.

On came Franks and Brobbel and they made an instant impact and the away side had far more intent as the game creeped towards the final ten minutes.

Then a glorious chance to equalise.

A Compton corner found Collins at the back post but his header was just wide, when he should have at least hit the target.

Six minutes of added on time were announced.

Compton looped an ambitious volley wide in the final few minutes before Stevenage sub Connor Calcutt struck a low fierce shot just wide.

There was then the late penalty shout - Brobbel clipped by Jerome Okimo. You could even hear the challenge but the strong appeals were waved away.

And that was that.

An opening day defeat for Pools and Cooper said himself afterwards that his side hadn’t done enough to get off the mark.

Pools fans are hoping they will, sooner rather than later.

Pools (4-4-2): Flinders, Duckworth, Collins, Bates (C), Austin, Walker (Franks, 76), Parnaby (Brobbel, 76), Miller, Compton, Harewood, James.

Subs Not Used: Dixon, Richards, Holden, Woods, Hawkins.

Stevenage (4-4-2): Beasant, Dembele, Worley, Wells (C), Ashton, Whelpdale (Okimo, 82), Lee, Bond, Pett (Deacon, 87), Marriott, Charles (Calcutt, 78).

Subs Not Used: Day, Johnson.

Goal: Whelpdale (60)

Attendance: 3,023 (Pools 295)

Referee: Mark Haywood