How it played out as Hartlepool United beat Dunston UTS in pre-season friendly
An eye-catching display from youngster Harry Close and a welcome clean sheet were the highlights as Hartlepool United claimed a first win in four pre-season games at Northern Premier League club Dunston UTS.
After making his senior bow as a substitute in last weekend’s defeat at Gateshead, Close marked his full senior debut with a goal in each half as Pools eased to a comfortable win on Tyneside.
Midfielder Mark Shelton also scored twice and Olufela Olomola grabbed his first goal for the club as Pools injected some much-needed positivity into a pre-season filled with worry and concern for the Victoria Park faithful.
On the back of a testing trio of defeats in fixtures against National League North opposition, it felt imperative that Pools made a positive start at the UTS Stadium - and that was exactly what they did as Dave Challinor’s side dominated the opening exchanges and pressed their hosts back into their own half.
Chances soon flowed and Mark Shelton had the first sight of goal with a long-range effort that nestled comfortably into the arms of two-time FA Vase winning goalkeeper Liam Connell.
Shelton’s time would come.
With the pressure continuing to flow in one direction, the hosts could only hold out until the eighth minute as Olufela Olomola netted his first goal for the club.
A driving run from Josh MacDonald ended with a low cross that found the former Carlisle United forward at the far post and his first-time shot squeezed over the line, despite the best efforts of Dunston keeper Connell.
Pools were playing with confidence and belief as they stroked the ball around the slick UTS Stadium pitch that had received a necessary watering by a pre-match downpour.
The pace and movement of the Pools midfield and attack meant that chances continued to arrive as Harry Close and Tom Crawford came close to adding a second goal either side of the quarter-hour mark.
Despite rarely threatening the Pools goal in the opening 20 minutes, Dunston burst into life as the midway point of the half arrived.
Midfielder Michael Pearson almost levelled the scores as he found space 30 years from goal and his ambitious chip sailed narrowly over the Pools crossbar.
Moments later, Pearson did have the ball in the net but the celebrations of his team-mates, and the home faithful in the stands, were cut short by the sight of an offside flag.
The rare ventures into the visitors half were to be temporary respite for Chris Swailes and his players as Pools resumed their dominance as the game made its way towards the half-hour mark.
After trying his luck from distance in the opening minutes, Mark Shelton fared better on 28 minutes when he found space on the edge of the Dunston area and arrowed a low drive inside the far post.
The former Salford City man was given a chance to double his tally and grab his side’s third of the night on 34 minutes when MacDonald initially evaded a challenge from Terry Galbraith – but was then clipped in the area by the Dunston left-back.
Shelton stepped up to take the resultant penalty and stroked the ball beyond Connell and into the net with minimal fuss.
Pools youngster Harry Close had shown flashes of his clear promise on his full debut – and he provided a memorable moment eight minutes before half-time as he grabbed his first senior goal.
The forward found space on the left-hand side of the hosts area before stepping inside a challenge and arcing a low drive into the corner of Connell’s net via the far post.
There was to be no let-up as the interval approached and only the impressive goalkeeping of Connell kept the score at four as the former South Shields number one kept out Olomola and Close just before the half-time whistle was blown.
Connell continued to shine after the interval as he raced from his line to block as Olomola shot after the forward had broken the offside trap just five minutes after the restart.
It was a rare sight of goal for either side in the opening 20 minutes of the half, but Pools continued to look the more likely to add to the scoring.
However, despite all their possession, Challinor’s side were often wasteful in the final third and their final pass let them down on several occasions as the half wore on.
That was until 17 minutes from time when a quickly taken corner-kick caught out their hosts and allowed Close to double his tally and grab his side’s fifth goal of the night.
With the home defence still trying to organise themselves in the area, hat-trick hunter Shelton was found by fellow midfielder Martin Smith and his low drive was tapped into the net by Close from inside the six-yard box.
The youngster had a chance to make his full debut even more memorable when he jinked through two weak challenges before sending a low effort at goal that was easily collected by Connell.
All focus now turns towards Pools long-awaited return to the Football League when they host Crawley at Victoria Park next weekend.
There can be no doubt the Red Devils will provide a more challenging task than Dunston and it would be foolish to read too much into Friday night’s win at the UTS Stadium.
But at very least, it does send Challinor and his players into their League Two return on the back of a positive result and performance – and that is all the Pools boss could have asked for ahead of their trip to Tyneside.
Dunston UTS: Connell, Baxter (C Elliott), Galbraith, Turnbull (Stafford), Capewell, Hall, Mason (Porritt), Kanda, Fenwick (Thear), Pearson, J Elliott Subs: Halliday, Clark
Hartlepool United: Trialist, MacDonald, Byrne, Trialist, Ogle, Angol, Crawford, Smith, Shelton, Olomola, Close Subs: Killip, Sterry, Featherstone, Liddle, Molyneux, Ferguson, Odusina