NEW year. New players. Same old result.
Hartlepool United kicked off 2015 in the same way they ended 2014 with a defeat, this time 1-0 away to league leaders Wycombe Wanderers.
But there was at least an improvement in the performance and work rate levels – mind that should always be a given.
Buoyed by three new loan signings, they matched high-flying Wanderers for large periods before being done on the break by Fred Onyedinma’s strike.
Boss Ronnie Moore had no hesitation in handing starts to Sunderland defender Scott Harrison, Reading midfielder Aaron Tshibola and Mansfield Town striker Rakish Bingham at Adams Park.
They all impressed too with Pools looking more solid at the back with added pace up front.
Yet clear cut chances were few and far between and at times they were hanging on at the back, with Harrison and Dan Jones called on to make several last ditch clearances.
You couldn’t deny Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe deserved the win overall but Pools almost snatched a point late on, Bingham’s header hitting the post.
Defeat was the club’s 16th of the season in the league, with the gap to safety extending to 10 points and relegation rivals Tranmere Rovers have a game in hand.
The situation is desperate.
For a team that has won three league games all season, winning four just to bridge the gap looks an impossible ask never mind producing the promotion-winning form needed to stay up.
One thing Moore can take solace from is that his side – the Morecambe defeat aside – has looked far more solid and organised and there appears a bit more fight.
A little too much in Lewis Hawkins’ case. The midfielder sent off after picking up two yellow cards having come on as a substitute.
Three red cards in three matches perhaps shows there is more fight in the camp and they are going to need it to salvage anything from this sorry campaign.
The team is desperate for further reinforcements, with Moore looking to bring in two more loan signings this week ahead of the visit of Cheltenham.
The three that have arrived so far look to have improved the first team but it is no surprise Moore is struggling to attract further players given the current plight.
Harrison wins the majority of his headers and clears the ball well, fully committed, he will make mistakes but he is a far better fit at centre back than Matthew Bates.
Tshibola was given the freedom to roam and his first touch was always a positive one, looking to build an attack.
A physical presence, he did the job that Brad Walker has struggled to do this season.
Up front Moore started the pacy Bingham as a lone frontman, supported by Jonathan Franks and Jack Compton on the wings in a new-look formation.
Or at least that was the plan.
Bingham impressed with his hold up play and energy but he was restricted to just one meaningful attempt on goal – a late header that hit the post – because he was feeding off scraps.
Both Franks and Compton had ample opportunities to cross more but failed to take them.
It was Bingham that carved out his own chance to have the first attempt on goal.
His low scuffed sixth minute strike was easily gathered by Matt Ingram before Scott Flinders was immediately called upon to save Aaron Holloway’s powerful effort up the other end.
Wycombe then began to impose themselves.
Aaron Pierre headed over after beating Bates – deployed in the holding midfield position – from a free kick.
Holloway then burst through in the 16th minute after a stray Nicky Featherstone pass but after beating Harrison he tripped himself up and the chance passed him by.
Pools had competed well until Wycombe took the lead in the 37th minute.
Michael Duckworth was tackled in the Wycombe area by Peter Murphy and the home side broke at pace, Josh Scowen spraying the ball to Onyedinma who finished with aplomb – the ball flying past Flinders at his near post.
Wycombe’s half-time lead was almost doubled but Murphy’s header was ruled out for offside right on the whistle.
Despite trailing, Pools didn’t let their heads drop. Bingham’s deflected effort looping onto the top netting within 60 seconds of the re-start.
Tshibola, who didn’t need any excuse to get forward, then blasted an effort wide before Wycombe enjoyed a period of pressure.
Scowen hit wide from a good position before Sam Wood missed a glorious chance to put his side 2-0 up.
Having beaten Harrison and Duckworth in the 51st minute he then dragged his shot well wide.
Pools were under the cosh, Wood saw a 30-yard free-kick deflected narrowly wide while Pierre headed over from one another Wycombe corner and Flinders was forced into a smart block.
Everytime the set piece delivery from Joe Jacobson was accurate but the Pools defence was holding firm.
They almost reaped the rewards from their stubborn defensive play in the 89th minute.
Compton’s corner found Bingham but his free header hit the post.
Pools had the momentum but it was wiped out when Hawkins picked up his second yellow card in the space of five minutes to receive his marching orders.
The over the top reaction from the home side – which outraged the Pools bench –didn’t help but it was a booking all day long.
Pools couldn’t muster an equaliser as they extended the run of winless games to nine, while the last time they won in the league was mid-October.
Moore took comfort from the fact his side showed far more commitment and endeavour.
Now they need to add further new faces.
and inject some quality into their attacking play if they are to get that elusive win they hope will spark a survival bid.