OPINION: The pressing problem Dave Challinor and Hartlepool United need to address going into the new year
It’s been a ‘two steps forward, one step back’ kind of season for Hartlepool United so far as there are several pressing issues Dave Challinor looks to address.
Pools currently sit 14th in the National League table, six points off the final play-off place and 15 points behind league leaders Barrow.
They still have 22 league matches remaining and 66 points left to play for as the new manager looks to address some persisting problems with his side.
Eight matches in to his Hartlepool tenure and Challinor’s impact has been a positive one on the whole. He’s guided the club to the third round of the FA Cup while also achieving big wins at Yeovil Town and Chesterfield.
Ultimately, that 5-1 win at the Proact Stadium are Pools’ only three points picked up under the former AFC Fylde boss as the cup success has somewhat taken centre stage.
As amazing as it would be, Hartlepool aren’t going to win the FA Cup and they certainly aren’t going to win the FA Trophy following Saturday’s horror show at Harrogate Town.
While it didn’t cost them any points in the league, the 3-2 defeat at the CNG Stadium was comfortably the worst loss of the season so far in terms of how comfortable Pools were and how badly they through the game away with a comedy of errors at the back.
The goals conceded have been a problem all season with avoidable errors costing the team results at an all too regular rate.
The whole team must take some responsibility but it’s the back line who will come under scrutiny at the moment.
Summer arrival Ben Killip has came under some criticism as he continues to learn his trade as a goalkeeper. But it’s fair to say the mistakes made by Dimi Konstantopoulos over the weekend worse than anything the 24-year-old England C international has done for Pools and shows even the most experienced pros are prone to costly errors.
On the whole, Killip has proven himself to be a capable shot stopper for Pools with several outstanding saves so far this season to help Pools claim some important results. Still, he can be a bit erratic at times, the commanding of his area is questionable and always has a few heart in the mouth moments in his locker.
But he’s not the problem and shouldn’t be made into a scapegoat for the shortcomings of the team or the defence as a whole.
Pools brought in Michael Raynes during the off season to add some commanding experience at the back. The 32-year-old may lack pace but he balances things out with his physicality, aerial presence and ability to lead from the back.
He was rested for Saturday’s defeat at Harrogate and was evidently a big miss. Though he’s still been involved in a fair few matches where Pools have thrown away leads that they shouldn’t have.
Dave Challinor questioned the lack of leadership in his side following their latest defeat and Raynes is certainly a vocal presence at the back though when things aren’t going your way, these sort of questions must be asked – are the right things being said?
Raynes’ partner in central defence, Fraser Kerr, is another no nonsense centre-back who is capable of delivering solid, composed performances in defence.
This was epitomised during last week’s FA Cup win over Exeter City where Pools kept their first clean sheet under Challinor with a 120-minute shutout of the League Two side.
The Scottish defender let nothing get past him at Victoria Park on Tuesday night. Fast forward a few days to Harrogate, and it’s chalk and cheese in comparison.
Kerr arrived at Victoria Park as one of the more respected defenders in the National League at the start of the year following a very impressive spell with Gateshead in which he delivered a consistently high standard of performances.
We’ve seen glimpses of that at Pools but an alarming lack of consistency not only from Kerr but from the team as a whole is Pools’ big downfall.
The lack of central defensive options at the moment given Pools’ current predicament makes the decision to loan out an experienced defender like Myles Anderson before assessing him in a competitive match scenario a questionable one.
Perhaps Challinor is planning on bringing in a body or two at the back though the return of Aaron Cunningham from injury would certainly be a welcome one as the Pools boss looks to mix things up.
But they can’t just keep throwing money at it and hoping something will stick, these aren’t Challinor’s players but he may have to work with what he’s got.
Despite being a defender, Peter Kioso has arguably been one of Pools’ most consistent performers so far this season so he’s probably one whose position in the side is relatively safe for the time being.
Kenton Richardson hasn’t done an awful lot wrong since returning to the starting line-up though – unless Kioso is playing more centrally – it’s likely he will return to the bench.
Mark Kitching, started the season very well as a left wing-back though the return to a back four has highlighted the 24-year-old’s defensive frailties in recent weeks.
Ultimately, everyone has a mistake in them. But when you have a goalkeeper and at least half of your defensive back line all prone to lapses of concentration and errors of judgement, it’s asking for trouble.
No one has the answer to Pools’ problem. Whether it’s a change in personnel or an attitude adjustment, Challinor will have to find the answer sooner rather than later.