Roy Kelly’s analysis: Slow starts are killing Hartlepool United

Kudus Oyenuga in action against Northampton Town
Kudus Oyenuga in action against Northampton Town

If there was ever a time for Ronnie Moore to win the manager of the month award, it is now.

A tall order given we’re three matches into October already and the points tally gained thus far is nil.

OK, it may be a case of mission impossible, but Hartlepool United’s players desperately need to rack up the sort of points tally that wins their boss that rather garish red and blue ‘trophy’.

Pools are not teetering on the brink, or anything like that.

But the next four matches are all against either teams below Pools in the League Two table or, in the case of Wimbledon, just above.

Now is the time for a run of wins, or an away draw or two would not be a crime.

But what would be a crime is the sort of start which has characterised two of their last three performances.

Take Bristol Rovers. Two corners conceded in the first two minutes and a platform for the Pirates to dictate pretty much the entire game.

Take Northampton: Another first-minute corner, a free header from it and a jittery look. It took 13 minutes for Pools to get in the home half.

Moore has worked wonders already but knows he needs to bring in “fresh faces”.

Michael Duckworth is on his way back to fitness but will step up his pursuit of a central defender this week and, possibly, a winger.

Some of Moore’s summer signings have been hits, some, thus far, have been misses though they may come good in time. Some we have yet to even see in the Football League.

But a loan signing or two are required. Pools can’t continue in this vein.

It started badly and rushed downhill from there.

Marc Richards missed the first open goal chance from a free header from the opening corner.

But he did not miss with his left foot in the fourth minute, getting a yard on marker Jake Carroll to net from close range after Adams got away down the left and played in the perfect pass.

Despite playing a 4-4-2 formation, which should have provided a little extra security, Pools were under the cosh.

Struggling to cope with the bright and busy play from Chris Wilder’s side, Pools were in danger of being overwhelmed.

However, they survived and, incredibly, had a couple of chances.

Billy Paynter, who looked much better in a 4-4-2, found Rhys Oates, whose turn and sharp-left foot shot produced a good 15th-minute save from Adam Smith, who had been a spectator until that point.

It should have been 1-1 from the corner. A ‘Ronny Rosenthal’ moment it was not, but Andrew Boyce will today be wondering how he nodded over the bar from a free-header inside the six-yard box from Jake Carroll’s delivery.

Moments later at the other end, Ryan Cresswell clearly ‘came out in sympathy’ for his fellow centre-half, the Cobblers defender somehow heading wide from a free chance from even closer.

But Pools’ generosity continued when the home team doubled their lead in the 21st minute.

Adams swung in a corner from the left with Bartlett getting no where near it despite the ball being in such close proximity. It went through to the back post, where Boyce, under pressure from Cresswell and Shaun Brisley, seemed to put the ball in his own net.

It was a goal you would be unhappy to concede on the Rec on a Sunday.

Soon after, it was almost three. Bartlett did well to palm away a Darnell Furlong cross from the right but the ball fell nicely for Sam Hoskin, who was denied by a Brad Halliday block.

Thankfully, Pools had survived the worst and will have been grateful the scoreboard ‘only’ showed 2-0.

But they began to find their feet with Rakish Bingham giving the home defence problems with his pace.

First, Paynter released him, the striker running through on goal and getting his left-foot shot on target, only to see Smith save well with his feet.

But a minute later, Bingham was through again and this time there was nothing Smith could do.

Michael Woods got him away and a great first touch by the forward saw him get around the on-rushing Smith before passing the ball into the unguarded net from the left side of the box.

The cue for a Pools comeback? Sadly not.

Aside from a 58th-minute Paynter shot which was high, wide and not so handsome at the end housing the 208 Poolies, there was little to note.

There was no lack of effort, but Northampton held the whip hand, controlling possession and territory.

Richards contrived to miss an open goal unmarked at the back-post after a superb Furlong cross, but otherwise Pools were not seriously threatened with Bartlett safe in the air.

Moore brought on Oyenuga and you hoped the former Spurs graduate would turn it on.

There were just two sights of the winger, putting one cross on the roof of the net and from the second winning a corner, from which fellow sub Brad Walker put his cross into the crowd.

It’s not blaming these fellas for the defeat, just pointing out that on a day when attacking joy was limited, a bit of quality was needed and it did not come.

Pools’ day was summed up in stoppage time.

Halliday was unceromoniously wrestled to the floor and the referee gave Northampton the free-kick.

To be fair to Kevin Johnson, he had not got a lot wrong all afternoon – he certainly made fewer mistakes than the players – but that decision totally killed any chance Pools had.

In fact, they never saw the home half again as the Cobblers played out time inside Pools territory with a series of slow-motion throw-ins.

But the damage was not done at the end, it was done at the start.