Hartlepool United's 2-0 win over Aldershot Town analysed: The three key difference makers as fine form at Victoria Park continues
Another week, another win for Hartlepool United at Victoria Park as they comfortably saw off Aldershot Town following a storming start to the game.
Two goals inside the opening 20-minutes proved to be enough for Pools to secure another 2-0 win and climb back to three points off the final play-off place.
Luke Molyneux set the tone for what would prove to be another great afternoon in the north east as he turned in Rob Harker’s low cross to make it 1-0 just five minutes into his first start of the season.
Molyneux then turned provider as his corner was headed in by Mark Shelton, who found the net for a third successive home match.
While that proved to be enough to win the game fairly seamlessly, the hosts could have been out of sight by half-time – by full-time it should have been at least four or five.
Aldershot looked off the pace from the start and were there for the taking more than any side who have visited The Vic so far this season after conceding twice early on.
Hartlepool haven’t won by more than two at home in 2019-20 with Saturday’s game something of a missed opportunity to completely put a side to the sword in front of a 3,442 strong crowd.
Unless things come down to goal difference, it’s the three points that matter in the end as Pools climbed back into the top 10.
Although it was another solid all-around team performance, the three aforementioned players seemed to really make the difference when it mattered.
Molyneux and Harker’s introduction into the side in attack gave Pools and added dimension in the final third while Shelton’s ability to pick a pass, tackle and pop up with a goal proved crucial once again.
With a goal and an assist, Molyneux’s contributions go without saying. His work and dedication to come back stronger despite such a mentally draining injury set-back really paid off.
Even though his influence waned as the game went on, you couldn’t have asked for much more from a player who hadn’t started a competitive game since last April.
Dave Challinor now faces a difficult decision next weekend with Gavan Holohan, arguably Pools’ most influential player in the final third under their new manager, returning from suspension.
Will the United boss stick or twist? Will he decide to find a way to fit both into the starting line-up? There’s also Josh Hawkes and Gus Mafuta waiting for opportunities – it’s a good headache to have at the moment.
One midfielder who has really shone since his arrival at Pools is Shelton. The 23-year-old took a bit of time to really find his feet after his lack of game time and injury set-backs at Salford over the past year.
But the loan signing has proved to be a shrewd piece of business by Challinor as he’s brought in a midfielder who is comfortable in possession, gets stuck in, can find the killer pass and evidently pops up with goals when it matters.
It therefore comes as little surprise that he’s played a key role in each of the last five goals scored at Victoria Park.
And now with him getting a consistent run of games, there could very well be more to come from the midfielder and making his loan deal permanent should be right at the top of Challinor’s priority list come the summer.
Although it’s still early stages, another smart acquisition seems to be the loan signing of Harker from Burnley. The 19-year-old’s performance was no doubt more understated than the likes of Molyneux and Shelton, but was impressive nonetheless.
For a teenager starting his first game of professional league football as a loan striker, he more than held his own.
Harker was a presence up against against Aldershot’s physical, albeit incompetent centre-back Jean-Yves Koue Niate. Pools’ new number 9 provided a focal point in the final third and deserved a goal after unselfishly teeing up Molyneux.
Although he’s tall and physical, his touch and mobility make him an exciting addition to the attacking line.
It may just be one game, but it certainly didn’t look like Harker’s first start at this level. And if he keeps playing like that, Pools could be on to a winner.
The 2-0 victory means it’s now three straight wins and back to back clean sheets on home turf for Hartlepool. While their away form needs addressing, they are irresistible at Victoria Park under Challinor.
In eight games at The Vic under the former Fylde manager, Pools have five wins, two draws and just one defeat.
A solid record in its own right, though when compared with the side’s opening eight home matches of the season prior to the change in management, it marks a significant up turn in form. They opened the campaign with just two wins, three draws and three defeats at The Vic under Craig Hignett, failing to keep a single clean sheet in the process.
Home form provides teams with a platform to be successful, Pools just need to start translating that on the road – starting next weekend at Solihull Moors.
With 12 games to go, they’re still in touch with the top seven and for that they deserve credit for their ability to bounce back.
But with their next three matches this month all against teams just above them in the table, things will start to become a lot clearer come March.