Shape, instinct, attitude, options - FOUR points of interest from Hartlepool's pre-season Sunderland draw

Matthew Bates
Matthew Bates

Hartlepool United might have been robbed of their League One scalp due to a last gasp Sunderland strike, but that goal did little to take the shine off their overall show.

Disciplined, organised and with a considerable threat, Pools looked at home against a side set to ply their trade two divisions higher.

But what were the take away pointers that Poolies have reason to smile about?

Here our man Liam Kennedy takes a look at four positives from the Victoria Park draw...

Pools' shape/formation

One thing that was noticable from minute one was Pools' shape.

It's OK saying you are going to change formation, but carrying out the commands in match conditions can often prove very different.

Many a manager has changed before and got it so wrong but it really feels like Bates might have hit on something here.

The three at the back really seems to suit the personnel he has at his disposal and it is easy to see why he has taken the plunge.

Carl Magnay is perfectly suited to the role as right-sided defender and Myles Anderson similarly. Both are comfortable in the centre but equally as happy being pulled wide to cover if needed.

The system requires full-backs who will bomb on and almost become a fresh line of attacking, freeing others - the likes of Ryan Donaldson and Josh Hawkes - to support the striker. And in Mark Kitching and Kenton Richardson Pools seem to have that.

The return of grit

It might just have been the red and white stripes or it could just be his nature but new boy Liam Noble, a staunch Newcastle United fan, did not hold back against his former club early doors.

His tacking set the tone for Pools, who battled for every ball and refused to give an inch. You'd never have guessed this was a friendly.

This kind of attitude has been non-existent in recent years.

It is refreshing to see it return in abundance. Let's not get too excited yet, given it's only pre-season. But the early signs are promising on the attitude front.

Striker guile and graft

While Niko Muir is not lightening he is quick enough. While he isn't big, he is very strong. And while he may have not played against opposition of this level before he certainly did not look out of place.

I was very impressed by the former Hendon frontman.

Let's talk about his goal first. On the evidence of this you can see why he netted 40 times in the Isthmian League last season.

He showed instinct to pounce on a Donald Love error and then when it looked like a finish was difficult, given the ground closed by keeper Jon McLaughlin, he showed the street smarts and technique to lift it over the Scotland international and into the Sunderland net. It was a finish of the highest order.

Off the ball he was willing to run the channels, always gave the Black Cats defenders something to worry about in behind and worked his socks off for the team.

Muir looks like a player brimming with confidence. It seems like he is not the type to shy away from the challenge of taking on Football League seasoned Jake Cassidy and Luke James for the starting berth up top. With performances like this that duo will find it tough to get in, despite the player's inexperience at this level.


And that brings me on the options at Bates' disposal.

He now has three strikers to call on, all of whom goals or pedigree behind them.

Think back to last season and he was having to patch the squad up just to get a full complement on match days.

Looking at today's bench he now has around 18 or 19 first-team ready starters.

This can be no bad thing for the Pools moving forward.