Hartlepool United's 2-1 defeat at Barnet assessed and analysed – the prevalent problems could cost Pools a play-off place
Hartlepool United’s gathering momentum came to a halt with a 2-1 defeat at Barnet on Saturday.
The loss ended a four game unbeaten run, which by Pools’ standards this season, is a long one.
After an uneventful but windy first half on a difficult surface at The Hive, Dave Challinor’s side were reduced to 10-men just minutes after the restart as Gavan Holohan was shown a second yellow card.
And the difficult conditions in north London were made even harder as Hartlepool had to hang on as Barnet pushed to break the deadlock.
The introduction of new signing Paul McCallum from the bench finally kick-started things for the hosts as the Solihull Moors loanee scored with his first touch after Pools failed to deal with a corner.
But the visitors stunned the hosts when Ryan Donaldson’s cross was met by Dan Sweeney who headed past Scott Loach and into his own net to make it 1-1.
Pools were only level for five minutes as McCallum turned provider for Simeon Akinola, who turned in the winner with 10-minutes remaining.
The defeat sees them drop to 13th in the table and six points off the play-offs with 13 games remaining. It’s going to be a difficult but by no means unassailable task for Challinor and his side.
They were 10-minutes away from what would have been another very good point on the road considering the context of the game.
The conditions were already difficult and being down a man in the second half meant they were always going to be up against it.
But when things aren’t going your way, good sides find a way to consolidate and grind results out. Pools couldn’t quite do that.
Barnet were far from their best on the day but with a man advantage and an experienced striker on the pitch they emerged with three points.
Games this season have shown that no side in the National League is notably superior to Pools. It’s been the case since the start of the season that sides that beat Hartlepool rarely outplay them – they outsmart them.
With 33 games played, Pools are still struggling to get the basics right consistently. Their naivety and lack of nous has been prevalent since August with simple mistakes costing them valuable points.
It’s the National League and it comes down to getting the job done, no matter how ugly it looks.
Holohan's red card was as unnecessary as it was avoidable. A stupid challenge that you just can’t make when you’re on a booking – don't give the referee a decision to make.
Instances like that, along with the failure to deal with high balls into the box, sum the side up as one that habitually shoots itself in the foot.
But it’s not just on the pitch where they seem to do that.
Scott Loach’s departure to Barnet last summer was always going to leave Pools with a challenge to find a suitable replacement.
Ben Killip was brought in by Craig Hignett but ultimately hasn’t been able to sufficiently establish himself in the side. The England C international was undroppable during the opening half of the campaign due to a lack of cover.
But even when that cover arrived in the form of Mitchell Beeney, the same problems still persist.
It goes without saying that a solid and established goalkeeper can quite comfortably earn you upwards of 10 points a season. Loach was that type of goalkeeper but the current situation in between the sticks has been costing United all season.
The same goes at the other end of the pitch. Hignett said ahead of the current campaign that the side didn’t need a 20 goal a season striker in order to challenge.
While there are goals throughout the team with the likes of Holohan and Gime Toure contributing 20 between them so far, Pools have left themselves without a proven striker, let alone a 20 goal a season one.
The defeat at Barnet was the first time Hartlepool had failed to register a shot on target under Challinor in what is hopefully a rare blip rather than a signal of what’s to come.
Going into the business end of the season, Pools have just two out-and-out strikers available in Aidan Keena, 20, and Rob Harker, 19.
While both could still prove to be excellent acquisitions by Challinor, neither have any experience playing at this level and it’s a big risk and a lot of pressure to put on young shoulders to expect them to deliver.
In contrast Barnet have Loach in goal and were able to introduce McCallum, who netted 27 goals for Eastleigh last season.
With those players at either end of the pitch, you’d fancy The Bees’ chances of making the top seven over Pools’.
Ultimately, if Hartlepool don’t make the play-offs, a large part of it will be down to the failure to sufficiently address those key areas.
With Saturday’s result, it’s still worth cutting the side some slack as a lot of things went against them and shouldn’t undo the hard work and progress they’ve made since the turn of the year.
It’s by no means a back to the drawing board situation, it’s just the same niggling problems persisting and proving costly.
With 13 games left, a top seven place is there for the taking and it’s not quite out of Pools’ reach just yet – though they do like to make things very difficult for themselves.