ROY KELLY ANALYSIS: Hartlepool in deep trouble after Mansfield thumping

Mansfield's Rhys Bennett clears with a header as Pools try to attack
Mansfield's Rhys Bennett clears with a header as Pools try to attack

Dave Jones had been looking up in League Two.

But, almost inevitably, he is facing the same task as his six predecessors at Hartlepool United.

Pools gifted Mansfield each of their four goals and, unlike the previous beating at Newport there could be no excuses about being out-muscled by giant opponents.

Pools are fighting relegation, there is no escaping that fact, and, on the evidence of Saturday’s thrashing at Mansfield, it’s going to be ugly.

This was as bad as it has been – shambolic defending and fitful going forward.

Pools had two shots all afternoon and NONE on target, and this reporter is struggling to recall former loan keeper Jake Kean having to get his pretty blue uniform dirty once.

This is the same Pools side – with the exception of Nathan Thomas for Lewis Alessandra – which played with such positivity and vibrancy seven days earlier at the Northern Gas & Power Stadium.

What is going on?

“I can see two teams, one home and one away,” said Jones in his media conference after the game.

“It’s a club trait, it’s what Hartlepool do and we have to change that.”

There is still time to turn it around, given a third of the season remains, but if Pools carry on in the same vein then they are in very real danger.

Pools are only five points above the drop zone and of the eight away games to go, three are at clubs below them in the table – Notts County, Leyton Orient and Cheltenham Town.

Given they have shown in the previous two games at the Vic that they can play football and defend, the problem must be psychological.

Jones is going to have to get into his players’ heads – he needs to be a skilled counsellor as much as a tactical genius.

And he is going to have to get in there pretty damn quick - Pools visit fourth-placed Luton tomorrow.

Pools gifted Mansfield each of their four goals and, unlike the previous beating at Newport there could be no excuses about being out-muscled by giant opponents.

All four goals were the result of sloppy play, whether it was an individual mistake or slack marking, or no marking.

The irony was on Saturday that they could have been in front as early as the 14th minute after some dreadful home defending.

With Kean in no-man’s land, Padraig Amond had an empty net to aim at from the edge of the home area, but his lob went over.

Would it have changed the game? We’ll never know, an early 1-0 lead is not always a guarantee of getting anything – just look at what happened at Stevenage.

However, one thing is certain, when Pools go behind an uphill task starts to resemble a climb up Everest. That became evident by a two-goal home blast in the space of seven minutes.

The Stags went ahead in the 19th minute when striker Shaq Coulthirst produced some good work down the right. Pools could only ‘clear’ his cross 10 yards to Ben Whiteman who was all alone to drill his shot home.

If the first goal was bad, the second had an 18-certificate as Pools lost the ball not once but twice.

A dangerous away attack came to a shuddering halt when Thomas was tackled down the right. Worse was to follow as Liam Donnelly played a short pass to Matthew Bates. It was not the greatest, but Bates should have put his foot through it.

Alas, he hesistated, and had his pocket picked by Danny Rose who broke int the box, rounded Adam Bartlett and put the ball into the empty net. Pools could have conceded a third when Mal Benning put a free header wide but the away side had their own free attempt in injury time.

Nicky Featherstone played one of the passes of the game to release Andrew Nelson who won a corner, from which an unmarked Scott Harrison connected with but could not hit the target. That’s about as good as it got for Pools. There was a neat move just before the hour when Amond’s ball in was intercepted, Lewis Alessandra made a lively start and a 68th-minute multiple-pass move was cleared on the edge of the box by the Stags.

But it is a straw-clutching exercise because Pools never looked like causing any problems to Kean or his defenders.

There were two further goals from the home side.

Sub Alex MacDonald was allowed to turn then run from deep, unhindererd, before shooting low from 25 yards, a shot Bartlett could not get near to as it finished in his bottom-right corner. The keeper will have been disappointed not to keep that out and it was the same in the 76th minute when Whiteman headed home MacDonald’s delightful cross from the left.

The midfielder was 16 yards out but was unmarked, how do you leave one of the most dangerous players unchecked in the vicinity of your goal?

That was it, thankfully, with Whiteman denied a hat-trick from Bartlett’s strong save, Bates heading clear the rebound.

But 4-0 was bad enough and Pools must clear their the second worst away defeat of the season quickly – they can’t carry on like this.