What we learned from Hartlepool United's National League opening day defeat to Sutton United

Well, that didn't go to plan.

By Dominic Scurr
Sunday, 04 August, 2019, 11:45

After all the positivity leading up to Hartlepool United’s National League season opener against Sutton United, many would have expected three points against a side undergoing a transition period.

Sutton even had to endure a nightmare journey on the way up to the north east having seen their train cancelled and having to jump on a later service which saw some players without seats for the three hour journey.

But once the ball got rolling for the start of the competitive season, it was Pools who looked like they’d been standing on a train all morning as they appeared surprisingly sluggish and anxious while Sutton were decisive and threatening.

Romoney Crichlow-Noble during Hartlepool United's National League match against Sutton United (photo: Martin Swinney)

Pools had a encouraging pre-season in terms of performances but they still conceded 13 goals so signs of defensive frailty were certainly there.

And that was apparent inside the opening 10-minutes as a failure to stop a cross into the box led to Sutton’s opener through Harry Beautyman. Shortly after, Sutton capitalised on some more unresponsive defending as Beautyman doubled the lead with just 23 minutes played.

Craig Hignett seems determined on playing attacking football with a rigid four at the back system which risks leaving Pools vulnerable as he said: “Our defence stays the same in every system we play, there’s a way I want to play and that won’t change.”

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But after that opening day performance, something has to.

Fortunately, Pools have plenty of options to mix things up. Nicky Featherstone and Gavan Holohan both did enough to warrant a start at Halifax Town on Tuesday night after coming on to soothe a disjointed Pools midfield as they pushed for an equaliser.

Gus Mafuta was arguably the only starter to emerge with any real credit after a solid display in the middle and later right-back following the injury to Kenton Richardson.

Romoney Crichlow-Noble’s first match at this level was apparent but at just 20, he’ll learn from the experience and improve as the season goes on.

It’s the old cliché of not being able to fault Hartlepool’s effort, but the quality and conviction was severely lacking.

It’s only one game, but it’s a huge reality check for everyone.