What we learned from Hartlepool United's 2-1 defeat at Stockport County – no consistency risks Pools enduring another uninspiring season in the National League
“Consistency will define our season.”
Those were the words of now former Hartlepool United manager Craig Hignett back in June. Now we’re in October, it’s certainly proving to be the case.
There simply is no consistency, and as a result Pools are languishing 16th in the National League table following a 2-1 defeat at Stockport County on Wednesday evening. A result that cost Hignett his job.
It was a complete contrast to Saturday’s well deserved win over Yeovil Town as things couldn’t have got off to a worse start at Edgeley Park.
Goals from Ash Palmer and Tom Walker put the Hatters well in control by 21-minutes and they were unfortunate not to be further ahead having twice being denied by the woodwork in the first half.
Pools could only get better in the second half and that proved to be the case as they moved the ball around well without causing too many problems, something that’s proving to be a bit of a running theme this season.
Hignett’s men finally pulled a goal back with four minutes of normal time remaining as Gavan Holohan’s parried shot was turned in by Nicke Kabamba with a controlled finish. It was too little too late.
Pools’ lack of ruthlessness was almost punished on Saturday and once again it’s inconsistency in terms of finishing and defending that has let them down.
Kenton Richardson has been impressive since the start of pre-season and looked fairly solid since his return to the side as a left-sided centre-back. That wasn’t the case on Wednesday as he was caught napping at the back and allowed Stockport to score.
The defender wasn’t given the chance to redeem himself in the second half as he was hauled off at half-time with Pools shifting things tactically as Peter Kioso went more central and Ryan Donaldson moved out to the right.
Aaron Cunningham, despite his penalty mistakes, has arguably been Pools most consistent central defender so far this season. But after an issue with fluid on his knee, he’s played just one of the last four matches.
The 21-year-old wasn’t a miss on Saturday as Pools defended admirably. But his no nonsense defending and calmness on the ball was in high demand on Wednesday evening as Stockport pressed them into making mistakes.
At the other end, things were all just a bit predictable. Gime Toure kept drifting out wide as he does but Stockport generally coped with his threat well.
The Frenchman has scored almost half of his goals this season by cutting in from the left and curling the ball into the far side of the goal and he’ll no doubt score a few more like that as the season progresses.
But it’s getting to the stage where one of the more unpredictable players in the Pools squad is getting a tad predictable. There’s almost a reliance on Toure to step up and produce a bit of magic and it risks becoming detrimental to a team who look short of ideas at times.
Wing-back Mark Kitching gets into some promising positions but doesn’t seem to always know if he’s coming or going when Toure drifts out to his side. The defender eventually ended up charging through the middle as it was getting to the point where Toure was effectively in his position, stifling his impact.
Still, the Frenchman is Hartlepool’s biggest goal threat and will pop up with those highlight reel moments of magic every so often. But once teams work out how to thwart his influence and impact, Pools’ chances of scoring dwindle significantly.
At Stockport, United saw plenty of possession once again but lacked any real conviction on and off the ball when they looked to threaten inside the penalty area.
After scoring two simple tap-ins from players making smart runs and getting into central areas in front of the goal against Yeovil – there was a disappointing absence of that on Wednesday.
The one time United mustered up a decent shot on target and had a player move with anticipation, Kabamba scored his first of the campaign.
If Pools had a 20 goal a season striker they’d be a different team but the reality is they don’t and that is unlikely to change in the immediate future.
Hignett was well backed in the summer and so far we’ve seen little sign that things will be different on the pitch this season. Perhaps the recruitment strategy needs looking at as signing on nine midfield players without sufficiently addressing a potential lack of goals up front always risked becoming a problem.
This obviously comes with the benefit of hindsight. Before the start of the season, the squad looked set-up to challenge but in practice it’s starting to become a case of unfulfilled potential which needs to be addressed.
The team are still capable. United did play reasonably well in the second half at Stockport but it’s largely irrelevant if they don’t get the result.
It’s now one win in seven for Pools. You can look positive side and see that it’s only three defeats in 11 but not losing games doesn’t necessarily get you anywhere.
You could go the full season unbeaten and still have little to show for it if you draw too many games. It’s wins that get you to where you want to be and five wins in 17 is far from inspiring.
Most frustratingly of all, they’re still only four points off the play-offs. It’s not too late, but something needed to change.