'Long live the king' and Hartlepool United's new dawn – 1-1 draw with Exeter City analysed
Hartlepool United’s perfect start to the season at Victoria Park may be over, but the momentum keeps building.
Pools’ 1-1 draw with Exeter City on Saturday afternoon was only the third time they had dropped points on home turf in 2021.
But with Luke Molyneux’s first Football League goal, two debutants and a new contract for Dave Challinor, there was still plenty to celebrate.
The 24 hours building up to the match saw Challinor finally put pen to paper on a new three year deal at Pools as well as Lee Rust and Adrian Bevington appointed to the club’s board.
In many ways, the match marked a new dawn for the club. Direction has been established and now we can look forward.
The foundations are slowly but surely being put into place and there is a clear sense that something is building at Hartlepool. And it’s never been more evident based on what we’re seeing in the stands.
Over 5,000 supporters packed into The Vic with flags waving and banners showing in the north west corner of the ground.
A huge 30-foot banner with ‘long live the king’ emblazoned across it could not have been timed better to coincide with Challinor’s new deal.
The Pools boss admitted he was slightly embarrassed by the gesture from the Pools supporters but couldn’t thank them enough for the time, money and effort that goes toward making The Vic a special place to be on a matchday.
But it needs the positive performances to go with it. On the pitch it was always going to be a tough challenge for Pools against a competitive Grecians side who went into the game unbeaten in their last six league outings.
Hartlepool were without their top two goalscorers Tyler Burey and Gavan Holohan while injuries to key defenders David Ferguson and Gary Liddle prompted a reshuffle of the back line.
In came Eddy Jones and Luke Hendrie handed their league debuts for the club – or second league debut in Hendrie’s case, six years after his first.
Matty Daly also came into the side in midfield in place of Fela Olomola, who dropped out entirely.
Mark Cullen returned on the bench after scoring five against Durham University on Tuesday but didn’t get onto the pitch despite being stripped and ready to go at one point.
But the injury hit side dealt with the situation well as they started on the front foot and applied plenty of pressure.
Pools set up with their familiar 3-5-2 formation with a few tweaks as Neill Byrne moved into a central position with Zaine Francis-Angol and Hendrie to his left and right respectively.
Molyneux was also handed a license to get forward as part of the front two alongside Mike Fondop – something that would prove effective in finding the breakthrough.
The opening 10 minutes saw Mark Shelton turn wide from a corner, Byrne head the ball straight at Exeter goalkeeper Cameron Dawson and Molyneux see a deflected effort loop narrowly over the crossbar.
After a few uninspiring displays, it was business as usual for Pools back at The Vic as they were lively and threatening from the off.
And they found a deserved opener after 25-minutes as Nicky Featherstone’s searching ball forward was brought down well by Molyneux under pressure from Exeter’s Alex Hartridge.
Pools’ makeshift striker then shifted the ball onto his favoured left foot before curling it into the bottom left corner of the goal from the edge of the box.
A fine finish and a great way for the 23-year-old to open his EFL account. Something we need to see more of from Hartlepool’s talented number 10.
After an impressive opening half-hour for Pools, Exeter quickly started to wake up having gone behind. A neat interchange on the edge of the box saw an opening for Sam Nombe against Ben Killip but the Grecians forward wasted a great opportunity as he scooped the ball over the crossbar from close range.
But Nombe wouldn’t waste his second opportunity in the 41st-minute as he nodded in Jake Caprice’s pinpoint cross from inside the six-yard box.
It was a simple goal from Exeter but a disappointing one from Pools’ perspective as it’s the third straight goal they’ve conceded from a cross into the box. It was all just a bit easy for the Devon outfit as Caprice was able to dink a first time ball in under no real pressure and a virtually unmarked Nombe, just yards from goal, was able to head in to level the score just before the break.
If the first half was an enthralling and eventful affair, the second half was anything but. Pools became safe and stagnant to hold on for a point.
Josh Key and Caprice had chances for Exeter while at the other end, Daly had Pools’ only shot on target in the second half with a side-footed effort from the edge of the box.
Challinor’s reluctance to make any changes was noticeable as both Cullen and Will Goodwin were ready to come on before returning to the bench.
A second half that was finely poised at 1-1 but in need of some fresh ideas up front ultimately saw just one defensive change from Pools in the 88th minute.
As a result, Pools were left with that unfamiliar feeling of not winning at Victoria Park as they dropped to seventh in the table after nine games.
The match was a harmless affair where neither side could have any real qualms about the full time result.
Crucially, the positivity and feel good factor remained throughout the game and into the evening.
And with Challinor’s future secured and a solid group of players, it’s hard not to be optimistic about the future at Victoria Park.