Hartlepool United 2-1 Northampton Town verdict: Tactics and character see Pools pick up most satisfying win
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Pools picked up their first win in five League Two matches on Saturday afternoon as they came from behind to beat Northampton Town 2-1.
After Sam Hoskins’ opener, second half goals from David Ferguson and Luke Molyneux saw Pools claim their fifth win in six games at The Vic this season.
After sliding down the table, the victory meant Pools climbed back into the top half, level on points with the play-offs and two points off the automatic promotion places. They simultaneously have the best home record and worst away record in the division.
Hartlepool confirmed a new member of the coaching team prior to kick-off as Dave Challinor’s former teammate Clint Hill was welcomed onto the bench.
The former QPR defender filled the gap left by former assistant manager Joe Parkinson, who departed back in August.
In terms of the team – after another attacking experiment on Tuesday night, it was back to 3-5-2 for Pools as they made two changes from their previous league outing at Stevenage.
Will Goodwin came back into the side for Mike Fondop, who dropped to the bench. It was the Stoke City loanee's first start in League Two since the 1-0 defeat at Sutton United last month.
Partnering Goodwin, Molyneux kept his place up front while Ferguson came in for Eddy Jones at left wing-back.
There was also a welcome return on the bench for teenage forward Joe Grey, who has been struggling with injury for the majority of the year.
A slow start
Northampton went into the game sitting just above Pools in the table. Two divisions separated the sides last season and early on there was an apparent gulf in quality as Pools struggled.
Northampton applied the majority of the early pressure with Hoskins forcing a fine tipped save from Ben Killip within the opening three minutes.
Hartlepool were not able to keep hold of possession as usual at Victoria Park as The Cobblers pressed and imposed themselves physically.
Even consistent performers like Nicky Featherstone and Mark Shelton were pressured out of the game in the opening stages as the hosts kept making mistakes and gifting their opponents the ball in dangerous areas.
The pace of Kion Etete up front threatened to cause even more problems for the likes of Luke Hendrie and Neill Byrne but thankfully the impervious Zaine Francis-Angol was able to stop the Northampton forward in his tracks when he broke through on goal.
Midway through the first-half, Pools found a chink in Northampton’s armour as they were finally able to get their foot on the ball and get bodies forward. Matty Daly and Ferguson both saw a shots well-blocked and Jamie Sterry put a great ball across the face of goal that only needed a touch to give Pools the lead.
Just three minutes later, Hartlepool should have went ahead as Daly slid in Goodwin but his shot was straight at Northampton goalkeeper Liam Roberts.
Despite the visitors’ general dominance, that was the best chance of the half for either side.
The game was goalless at half-time with Challinor describing his side’s display in the opening 45-minutes as ‘pretty turgid’.
After a delayed start to the second half which saw the Town End goal net need to be fixed by Pools physio Ian Gallagher (apparently it’s not just players he heals), Northampton came out of the traps strongly once again.
A swift attacking move from the away side released Hoskins who was once again thwarted by a fine stop from Killip.
But it would be third time lucky for the Northampton man as a flicked on throw-in fell kindly to his feet as he turned the ball into the bottom left corner with a fine volleyed finish.
It was no less than Northampton deserved and it was certainly cause for concern for Pools as they had won just two out of the 23 league games they had conceded first since Challinor became manager.
Tactics and character
Following last weekend's defeat at Stevenage, the Pools boss said ‘it’s not about tactics, it's about character' as his side fell behind and failed to get back into the game.
This time out it would be about both tactics and character as Hartlepool immediately drew level just two minutes later with Sterry’s pinpoint cross from the right met by a bullet header from Ferguson to make it 1-1.
Following the equaliser, Challinor sensed an opportunity to change things and really push for the win.
The attacking introductions of Jordan Cook and Joe Grey in place of defender Luke Hendrie and midfielder Mark Shelton would prove inspired.
Cook was lively as he was on Tuesday and Grey, in only his second EFL substitute appearance, showed exactly why he’s not just a youngster there to tick a box and make up the numbers. He can be a difference maker – just like he was on the last time Pools came from behind to win against Yeovil Town back in February.
And the 18-year-old came close to scoring himself within minutes of being on the pitch.
With time running out, Grey cut inside from the left and delivered a wonderfully weighted cross towards the back post which Molyneux arrived to convert clinically on the volley with his right foot to make it 2-1.
Just like that, Pools had secured their 19th in in their last 22 league matches at The Vic but this was only the second time (after Yeovil) that they came from behind in that time.
And this was a game where we saw just how influential Challinor can be from a tactical perspective. A mixture of good timing with Ferguson’s equaliser and smart changes proved crucial in securing the victory.
And that’s why it felt ‘all the more special’ for the Pools boss and everyone connected with the club.