Wembley seems a long way way for Pools after Notts County defeat

Toto Nsiala is caught up in trouble before his red card
Toto Nsiala is caught up in trouble before his red card

Wembley is a long way from Hartlepool. Just ask Jeff Stelling.

The Hartlepool United president has walked every step of the way to the home of English football.

Early play was tedious and fractured, probably due to the fact so many changes were made to both sides.

It’s an arduous journey and one Pools have never made before.

And their prospects of reaching Wembley for the first time could not have got off to a worst possible start after losing their Checkatrade Trophy opener at Notts County.

Given Pools are in a four-team group, avoiding defeat in the first of only three fixtures was vital, but they now face an uphill struggle.

County have established themselves as something of a bogey club to Pools and so it proved as they lost to the Magpies by a single goal for the fourth match in a row.

Craig Hignett, as suspected, rang the changes for the match against their League Two rivals.

Already minus Trevor Carson, who is away on international duty with Northern Ireland, and Matthew Bates (ankle injury), he chose to rest Padraig Amond, Nicky Featherstone, Nathan Thomas and Michael Woods.

Rhys Oates came in for his first start of the season, with Scott Harrison, Lewis Hawkins, Josh Laurent and Nicky Deverdics all starting.

Early play was tedious and fractured, probably due to the fact so many changes were made to both sides.

The first action of note was in the 17th minute when Stanley Aborah’s rasping drive brought a fine diving save from Bartlett to his right.

Pools fell behind to a goal on the break by Genaro Snijders.

The irony of it was Pools had gone forward nicely with one of their best passing moves of the half, only to lose the ball allowing Notts Co to counter.

Adam Campbell drove forward and released Snijders who finished well from the right side of the box into Bartlett’s right corner.

However, Pools were level within eight minutes with a first goal of the season from Rhys Oates.

Lewis Alessandra broke into the box and fed Oates who squeezed his right-foot into the keeper’s right corner.

But the good work was undone 10 minutes from the interval.

Lewis Hawkins caught Carl Dickinson in the left-back’s run into the box with referee Darren England having no hesitation pointing to spot.

Graham Burke stepped up to send Bartlett the wrong way, his left-footer fropm 12 yards ending in the goalie’s bottom left corner.

Hignett made two changes at the break, giving breathers to Billy Paynter and Alessandra, bringing on Connor Smith and Kieran Green.

Pools gained a couple of corners but Scott Loach, between the home sticks, was rarely extended.

There was little at the other end either as the tie rather petered out though Snijders should have done better on 80 minutes only to blaze over before bringing a routine save from Bartlett seconds later.

Six minutes from time, Pools put together a superb six-man move only for Haydn Hollis to intecept Smith’s low ball in towards Oates.

Play had been tame, to say the least, but the match exploded late on.

Jordan Richards was cleaned out by a dangerous Rob Milsom tackle but the referee and linesman, both with clear views of the incident, awarded no free-kick.

Then at the death, Hawkins was kicked with, again, no action taken. The player reacted angrily, pushing the perpertrator.

It led to a spot of handbags, with almost every player involved in the melee on the touchline in front of the main stand.

Once the ref and his assistants finally managed to quell the situation, Mr England sent off sub Wes Atkinson.

It was not all as the referee showed a red card to a dumbfounded Toto Nsiala who appeared to have done nothing wrong.

Unlike Saturday when he deserved his early bath, this time he looked the innocent party and his dismissal completed a miserable night out for the visitors.

Pools have done precious little in this competition.

Those of us of a certain vintage will recall with fondness a run to the Northern semi-final in 1988, Pools accounting for Sunderland at Roker Park along the way.

Bar that, it has been a short-term engagement for the club.

But it remains the best chance of chalking Wembley off the bucket list, but there is more to the Checkatrade Trophy than a day out in the smoke.

Having mentioned the romance, this reporter hates to bring up the ‘M word’ - money.

Since the Premier League got their way and forced the Academy teams into the competition, the small matter of £2million has been pumped into the tournament.

With £10,000 per win and £5,000 per draw on offer during the group stage and two home ties to come, including a derby with Sunderland, there could be a few quid in it for Pools.

If Pools are to achieve something this season, they need revenue, and what better way is there than winning matches.

And that’s what they need to do if they are to get Jeff Stelling to Wembley.