RICHARD MENNEAR’S MATCH ANALYSIS: Hartlepool Utd 0-0 Portsmouth

Charlie Wyke in action against Portsmouth. Picture by FRANK REID
Charlie Wyke in action against Portsmouth. Picture by FRANK REID

YOU only had to take a look at the squad photograph published inside the match day programme to see where Hartlepool United’s problems lie.

A total of 18 players - including four youngsters with just one sub appearance between them this season - make up the squad of players that actually belongs to Pools.

The five players currently on loan weren’t pictured and Colin Cooper is desperate to add to the permanent playing staff available to him.

Nowhere is more important than up front.

Because for all the hard work, toil and commitment shown by his side against Portsmouth at Victoria Park, draws won’t keep you up. Goals will.

A third clean sheet on home soil is commendable but just five league goals - comfortably the lowest in the league - this season after 10 games is not.

Cooper has confirmed two free agents - both forwards - will be training with Pools this week and lets hope they impress because this squad is still desperately short of players.

Whose fault that is 10 games and two months into the season is up for debate but one thing is for sure, this is going to be a long, hard season for the Pools faithful.

It was drab and hard-going at times against Pompey - for the watching fans as much as the players - but the deserved point at least saw the home side climb out of the bottom two to 22nd - hardly an achievement but a slight morale booster if nothing else.

At this relatively early stage of the season Pools are already six points off even just a mid-table position, worrying times.

And with bottom side Carlisle United - who picked up their first win of the season on Saturday - the visitors this weekend the match is already a relegation six pointer.

Three points against the Cumbrians is a must.

There were some positives from Saturday though.

Overall, it was a solid team performance against a powerful and dangerous Pompey side, the defence looked far more resilient and Scott Flinders picked up another clean sheet at home.

Cooper, though, is desperate for his side to pick up the win bonuses he fought to install but without new strikers then that money will be remaining safely in the bank.

In came fit-again Michael Duckworth and Charlie Wyke into the starting line-up, with David Atkinson, signed on loan from Boro, starting on the bench.

After a fairly even start the first attempt came in the eighth minute and Pompey should have taken the lead through Patrick Agyemang.

The burly striker somehow managed to volley the ball wide from six-yards out when he had the whole goal gaping - a huge let-off for Cooper’s nervy side.

It was no surprise Pools were nervous either given the back-to-back defeats to Northampton and Plymouth that had seen them drop into the relegation zone going into the game.

Pompey sensed blood and had further chances.

Pools then displayed some comical defending - three chances to clear the ball were missed before it was eventually whipped across the face of Flinders’ goal.

The danger passed but it was another warning sign and moments later Craig Westcarr blasted the ball high over the bar from just eight-yards out.

If the Pompey strike-force had remembered to pack their finishing boots for the long trek north then it would have been game over.

Talk of a mass protest on 19 minutes and 08 seconds - Pools being formed in 1908 - didn’t materialise but in the same minute Cooper’s side almost conceded.

A lack of communication from Matthew Bates and Flinders resulted in a Pompey corner, which Jack Whatmough should have scored from but his effort was blocked by Flinders from close range in front of the travelling contingent.

From then on, Cooper’s side got hold of the ball more and improved as a team.

Surprisingly, it was Duckworth who almost opened the scoring in the 30th minute, the right-back dribbled his way into the box but his fierce strike was well blocked by Whatmough.

Wyke - who later suffered two cuts to his face - again impressed with his touch and hold up play but clear-cut opportunities were hard to come by.

Brad Walker’s goal-bound shot from the edge of the area was then blocked in the 42nd minute before the struggling home side were dealt an injury blow just before half-time.

Former Pompey winger Jack Compton having to go off with a sore calf with Darren Holden on as his replacement.

In the final seconds before the break, the dangerous Jed Wallace saw his low drive from the edge of the area blocked by Duckworth.

Pools again had Flinders to thank for keeping them in the game early into the second-half, the big stopper smartly saving from Westcarr.

It was a crucial block, which later led Cooper to declare his side owed the point to Flinders for his performance.

Further goalscoring chances were hard to come by, with Pools, in particular, getting into some good positions but wasting the opportunity to take full advantage.

With 20 minutes left to play, Duckworth was bundled over on the edge of the Pompey penalty area after some tricky footwork but the resulting free-kick from Ryan Brobbel was deflected over the bar.

Further half chances fell to Wyke who headed over and sub Marlon Harewood who blasted a shot wide from a tight angle.

Pools were on the front foot for the final few minutes but it was Pompey’s Wallace - who’d already twice tested Flinders - that almost snatched it.

His powerful effort from the right-hand side of the area was well-saved as both sides settled for a point.

Hard-earned and well-deserved but Pools need strikers through the door quickly before the Cumbrians come calling next weekend.