Oldham 0-0 Hartlepool United verdict: Attacking issues persist for 'flat' Pools
Hartlepool United rolled their attacking dice once again, but it was to no avail.
Saturday’s goalless draw at crisis club Oldham Athletic may have been a step in the right direction in terms of Pools picking up a first away point of the League Two season, but a lack of goals is a growing concern.
Dave Challinor’s side have now scored just once in their last four league matches while experimenting up front in the absence of top scorer Tyler Burey.
Following Tuesday night’s 1-0 defeat at Sutton United, Dave Challinor brought two new attacking faces into the club in the form of Mike Fondop and Jordan Cook.
Fondop was thrown straight into the starting line-up as one of four changes while Cook was named and later introduced from the bench.
David Ferguson, Mark Shelton and Fela Olomola also came into the side with Timi Odusina, Will Goodwin, Martin Smith and Matty Daly dropping out.
Fondop and Olomola were an untested forward line but their energy and power looked like a combination that could potentially provide the jolt Pools’ goal-shy forward line desperately needed.
Unfortunately, it didn’t quite transpire that way on the pitch with Fondop clearly still finding his feet and Olomola having one of those afternoons where nothing seemed to stick.
‘I need more from Fela,’ Challinor admitted after withdrawing him before the hour mark in place of Cook, who didn’t really get an opportunity to impact the game either.
Oldham had won just one of their opening six league games going into this one and hadn’t picked up a single point at Boundary Park, yet they started the brighter of the two teams.
Hallam Hope would have opened the scoring had it not been for some solid defensive work from Neill Byrne, a decent stop from Ben Killip and a fantastic clearance from Zaine Francis-Angol to put the rebounded effort out for a corner.
Meanwhile, Pools were looking to use their new found height and presence with Fondop leading the line as they played long balls forward to the Cameroonian target man but it failed to stick.
It wasn’t until Pools started to get wing-backs David Ferguson and Jamie Sterry into the game that they started to pose any sort of threat.
Their approach was predictable but effective in giving Pools a foothold in the game as crosses of quality were asking questions of Oldham’s defence even if the attacking players weren’t showing enough conviction to get on the end of them.
Mark Shelton came the closest of any Pools player to finding the net as he headed the ball off the left post from Jamie Sterry’s cross.
Hartlepool were up against an Oldham side who had conceded seven goals without response in their last two league outings but ultimately failed to apply any sustained pressure onto the side at the foot of the Football League.
Oldham’s off-field issues and fan discontent dominated much of the build-up to the game with supporters protesting the ownership of Abdallah Lemsagam.
Latics fans paraded a mock coffin outside Boundary Park prior to kick-off as they passionately voiced their views on their club.
But once the game got under way, the match fortunately passed without any incidents that impacted what was happening on the pitch.
A plane displaying the banner ‘AL & MO TIME TO GO! #SAVEOAFC’ flew above the ground just four minutes into the game while supporters in the Jimmy Frizzell Stand displayed a banner reading ‘enough, sell the club’.
It’s a situation Pools fans can completely sympathise with given their recent history.
The protests would prove to be the highlight of an ultimately dull afternoon of football in Greater Manchester. Challinor’s side were flat and disjointed with the Pools boss suggesting his players could have been suffering from a ‘hangover’ from the 600-mile round trip made on the day to Sutton United on Tuesday.
But Pools still had to battle to hold out for a point on Saturday. Some fine last ditch defending from Gary Liddle saw him rightly named as BBC Radio Tees Sport’s man of the match to help Pools earn a point and a clean sheet.
Hartlepool may have issues finding the right combination of players up front to get them goals but the defensive side of their game is solid and composed.
Four clean sheets in eight league games and just six goals conceded has equalled Pools' best ever defensive start to a season.
Unlike Pools’ forward line, their defence is experienced and largely consistent in terms of personnel. Sterry and Ferguson are proving themselves to be among the best wing-backs at this level while the experience of Liddle in the middle of solid new acquisition Neill Byrne and surprise package Zaine Francis-Angol gives Pools a solid foundation to build on from the back.
The experiment will continue up front but it’s clear the answer has not been found. Pools have started with six different attacking combinations in nine games this season and perhaps in that lies the problem.
As Pools look to find the answer and chop and change, no one player is getting the time to settle into the side and find their feet. Since Burey’s injury, there has been no consistency in personnel or performance.
A lack of goals is a real and obvious threat to Pools in League Two this season but it’s hard to feel too disheartened when looking at the league table.
Sixth after eight games is a good return, even if the away form is putting more and more pressure on the side to deliver at Victoria Park.