What did Hartlepool United learn from their defeat at Halifax Town?

After opening day disappointment against Sutton United, it was more of the same for Hartlepool United when they visited Halifax Town on Tuesday evening.

Wednesday, 7th August 2019, 4:45 pm
Halifax Town's Josh Staunton celebrates after scoring their first goal during the Vanarama National League match between FC Halifax Town and Hartlepool United at The Shay, Halifax on Tuesday 6th August 2019. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

Second half goals from Josh Staunton and Tobi Sho-Silva saw The Shaymen claim three points and pile the misery on an expectant Pools side who are yet to get off the mark for the new campaign.

Pools did start reasonably well at The Shay, there was clear energy and intent from the first whistle – something that was sorely lacking on Saturday.

But it’s the execution that matters and for all of their good possession and movement inside the Halifax half, Craig Hignett’s side had nothing to show for it as the sides went in goalless at the break.

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Jerome Binnom-Williams of Halifax Town battles with Nicke Kabamba of Hartlepool United during the Vanarama National League match between FC Halifax Town and Hartlepool United at The Shay, Halifax on Tuesday 6th August 2019. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

“We had control for the most part, they had two spells but we were comfortable,” said the United manager.

A side who is ‘comfortable’ should not be losing any game by two goals – so something is missing.

“It was the little things we didn’t do,” he added. “When we were on top and we’re shooting and the ball is bouncing back to people, [the opposition] shouldn’t be getting the ball, turning and putting us under pressure, but they were.

“It’s little tweaks like that, we need to spot danger a little bit better than we are. We’ve got to be a little more savvy about how we go forward and when we go forward.”

Hartlepool United manager Craig Hignett during the Vanarama National League match between FC Halifax Town and Hartlepool United at The Shay, Halifax on Tuesday 6th August 2019. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

A new-look back line has looked far from convincing in the early stages of the season with five avoidable goals conceded in two matches so far.

“The first [goal], we’ve got a free-kick and they break away and score which is criminal,” Hignett admitted.

“Those are the bits I’m talking about. The second one is a set-piece which can happen in any game in this league, I’m disappointed we didn’t defend it because we’ve got enough big players to do it but that can happen.

“We had loads of opportunities on the edge of the box where we had a couple of shots but other than that we turned some down which were clear cut chances.

“We need to stop shipping goals, we’ve let some poor ones in by our standards in these first two games.

“When you’re on top in games, you’ve got to score goals and if you don’t get the first goal away from home it’s always going to be tough.”

After the lacklustre display against Sutton, Pools surprisingly made just one unforced change on Tuesday as goalscorer Gime Toure was dropped in favour of midfielder Nicky Featherstone in a move that raised a few eyebrows from Poolies.

Two defeats out of two quite clearly isn’t good enough for Hartlepool – but has Hignett learned anything from these matches?

“We’ve talked there, do we want to go counter attacking or do we want to stay the way we are and keep control of the ball and try to pin teams back and play through them,” he continued.

“We knew transition would be big against Halifax and it was. It was all about the transition when we lost the ball, we didn’t close them down anywhere near quickly enough.

“We didn’t do the nasty bits well, we didn’t close people well when we had the ball. We were a little bit lax but fair play to them, they packed the midfield but we played through it and we still kept most of the ball.

“But when we did have shots, they were bouncing to their men so that can’t happen. We need to be really tight and it’s a case of the players thinking what if and looking at worst case scenarios, especially those who aren’t involved in the play at the time.

“We obviously need more work on it because it’s the nasty bits that make the difference.”

A change of system was made at Halifax but the performance showed no significant signs of improvement over the 90-minutes. A midfield diamond allowed Pools to have more control in midfield and there was more cohesion and understanding with the front two.

But once the ball got inside the box, the away side offered very little as Shaymen shot-stopper Sam Johnson barely had a shot to stop.

Something needs to change, though the ever positive Hignett insists he’s not panicking just yet.

“I wouldn’t say we played better than we did on Saturday, I thought against Sutton we had a really good second half,” he admitted.

“I thought against Halifax we were good with the ball but we’ve got to find a way to win games and shut teams out when we’re on top.

“It’s just about trying to get more attacking players on because we need goals, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the system.

“We changed it and played a diamond with two up front, you’ll might have a problem with the wide-men but if you’re switched on, you shouldn’t.

“We had some nice bits of movement in the first half, created some good chances. When we went to the three up front with Gime on, that was a different problem for them and we looked a little bit more dangerous.

“It’s important everyone just cracks on, works hard, sticks together and doesn’t panic just yet.”