When does a lack of a home win become a big psychological problem?
Not my words, but a question from a better football expert than me, the BBC Tees commentator, Ivan Ash.
It was both an intelligent and legitimate question to Craig Hignett after Hartlepool United’s wait for a home win was extended to four games and one the manager gave a good and positive answer to.
“Wins will come, we’re not a million miles away,” he said. “The performance for me is the main thing, especially after two weeks ago [at Stevenage] and we are now unbeaten in two games.”
Hignett is right – Pools are not far away and they are moving forward after the Stevenage shambles.
His fellow Scouser, Mike Newell, is not every Poolie’s cup of tea, but this reporter quite liked him and, at the end of the day, is one of a very small group (four in fact) who have managed Pools to promotion.
He hated cliches like “six pointers” or comments like “two points dropped”.
A draw to Newell was a point won “one more point than we had this morning” he would say.
The Poolie faithful seemed to have mixed views. There were a few boos when the ref finally blew the full-time whistle but there was also some applause, the fans recognising Pools had enjoyed the better of the play and had enough chances to have secured the points.
Of the two teams on view, they were certainly more deserving.
Yes, it would have been nice to have followed the dramatic 2-1 win at Yeovil with an emphatic win over Mansfield. But the Stags came to the Northern Gas & Power Stadium and put bodies behind the ball – lots of them.
They successfully stifled Pools, who found it hard, though not impossible to break the massed yellow ranks.
There were more positives than negatives and Pools could take great satisfaction in their first clean sheet in eight matches.
It was long overdue and while it took Mansfield around 50 minutes to venture past the halfway line, it is not to be sniffed at after some of the terrible goals Pools have conceded to date.
It was achieved after the back four changed again, this time following a knee injury to Carl Magnay, Liam Donnelly switching flanks from left to right with Jake Carroll coming on at left-back.
The midfield of Nicky Featherstone, Josh Laurent and Lewis Hawkins had the better of their opposite numbers, but, given the deep defence of Town, it was not an easy afternoon for the front three of Billy Paynter, Lewis Alessandra and Nathan Thomas.
The way Thomas opened the game against his former club it looked as though we were in for a treat as he beat two defenders with a run inside the first 90 seconds which had the Stags grateful for a free-kick award as Pools threatened an early goal.
On the subject of free-kicks, the whistle of Darren Handley seemed to be sounded every few seconds and, as a consequence, there was little flow to the game.
Alessandra and Paynter, both restored to the starting XI, each had sights of goal.
After a neat inter-change, Paynter’s shot lacked any venom, while Featherstone played in Alessandra. It had ‘hit it with your left foot’ written all over it, but the forward insisted on working it on to his right and by the time he did, it was blocked.
Scott Harrison and Paynter set up the best chance of the half to Laurent in the 25th minute but the midfielder ballooned his shot over the bar and Rink End Stand from seven yards.
Pools had the ball in the net 10 minutes into the second half after Scott Shearer had saved superbly from Paynter’s perfectly-timed header from Alessandra’s corner, Thomas putting in the rebound.
Thomas set off to celebrate his fourth ‘goal’ in three games only for the linesman to raise his yellow flag for offside. It looked a tad harsh, given this reporter thought he saw a defender on the post, but the ‘lino’ had a better view than this short-sighted journo 50 yards away.
Pools almost broke the deadlock on the hour when Laurent threatened to break the net with a powerful, rising drive but Shearer turned it over the bar.
If you were betting your mortgage – not a wise move admittedly – on any Pools player to score, it would surely be Paynter.
Brilliant approach play and an equally good pass by Thomas in the 72nd minute set up the skipper to the left goal, only for him to shoot wide with the goal, seemingly, at his mercy.
It was not a happy day for No 10s when faced with golden opportunities.
Within two minutes, Matt Green was played in on goal but with only Trevor Carson to beat the Stags No 10 was blocked by the keeper who then collected the rebound when it looped in the air.
It was just the third attempt of the afternoon by the visitors and their only effort on target. But it was not the best chance of the game.
That was still to come, six minutes from time. Laurent enjoyed his best game since his January move to the Vic and did well to win Pools a free-kick wide on the right.
He was then in the right place to meet Thomas’s perfect delivery, only to succeed in heading wide when it looked a certain goal.
It meant Pools had ‘only’ a point but it was a step forward and not back.