Port Vale 2-0 Hartlepool United - Talking points including defensive changes, soft goals and the need for a new manager
Hartlepool United’s poor run of league form continued with defeat at Port Vale.
Ben Garrity opened the scoring just after the half hour mark and Tom Pett sealed the points in stoppage time as Pools’ miserable run of defeats extended to five.
While it wasn’t necessarily a poor display from Pools it continued to raise similar questions about their frailties in front of goal and the need for a new manager to be appointed.
Here are the talking points from Vale Park.
Setting the scene
Pools arrived into the game having lost their last four League Two games after the defeat at Swindon Town in midweek and had slipped into the bottom half of the table.
And the omens weren’t particularly good for Pools based on their last two visits to Vale Park which made for grim reading for the travelling fans who saw their side beaten 6-2 and 4-0 respectively on those occasions.
The last time Pools won in this part of the Potteries came in 2008 with interim boss Antony Sweeney on the scoresheet in a 3-2 success.
But Saturday was another challenging fixture for Pools against a side who will be hoping to compete for promotion come the end of the season.
There was a slight surprise in the starting line-up with two defensive changes from the midweek defeat at Swindon.
Zaine Francis-Angol and Reagan Ogle both dropped out, with Ogle a particularly shock omission given that Jamie Sterry remained suspended.
In came Luke Hendrie for his first start under interim boss Sweeney with Stoke City loanee Eddy Jones also coming in for just his fourth appearance of the season.
Meanwhile Mark Cullen retained his spot up front against his old club with several ex-Pools players featuring for Port Vale.
Ryan Johnson and Lewis Cass both contributed to Pools’ promotion winning campaign last season with on-loan Newcastle United defender Cass heavily involved for the Valiants so far this season.
Brad Walker spent four years with Pools as a youngster while Devante Rodney enjoyed 18 months at the Suit Direct Stadium and Vale boss Darrell Clarke who himself spent six years with Pools.
A change in formation
With the two defensive changes came a different set-up altogether from Sweeney who switched from Pools’ trusted 5-3-2 formation to a back four.
Jones was deployed on the left with Hendrie on the right as David Ferguson was allowed to move further forward to aid in attack.
Tom Crawford partnered Nicky Featherstone in the middle with Luke Molyneux and Matty Daly buzzing around Cullen.
After the game Sweeney suggested the decision was made in an attempt to ‘frustrate’ Port Vale and be more ‘compact.’
And it was a tactical move which appeared to work for the opening half an hour as Pools settled the better of the two sides and enjoyed large spells of possession without ever really testing Lucas Covolan in the Port Vale goal.
Hendrie was able to provide a useful outlet on the right, finding space on a number of occasions to provide a two-against-one scenario with Molyneux but the final ball was lacking.
On the opposite flank Jones showed some neat touches on the ball including a nice turn away from David Worrall early in proceedings.
But the Stoke City loanee did struggle at times defensively with Worrall and Cass both able to enjoy encouraging spells in the first half.
Lack of cutting edge and soft goals
If one side was going to score in the opening half an hour it was perhaps more likely to be Pools who found themselves in behind Port Vale’s defence on a few occasions with Featherstone and Cullen to win corners.
But the visitors weren’t able to force anything clear cut with a low fired cross from Molyneux which just escaped Cullen the closest they came in the opening 20 minutes.
Featherstone tried his luck from distance but the midfielder’s effort was speculative and not troubling Covolan.
And then came the moment Pools should have taken the lead as Gary Liddle escaped his marker and looked set to latch onto Ferguson’s in-swinging freekick from the left but the defender missed his header as the ball rolled into touch.
It was a miss Pools would regret as two minutes later they were behind.
Worrall clipped a ball around Jones for David Amoo to run onto and he was able to beat Liddle and scramble the ball into the box where Neill Byrne ought to have cleared but fumbled into the path of Garrity who converted from six yards.
It was a particularly soft goal which knocked the wind from Pools’ sails who then had to dig in to avoid falling further behind with Ben Killip called into action to deny Worrall.
The introduction of Joe Grey at the break failed to have its desired impact as Pools never really got going in a flat second half from both teams.
It wasn’t until the final 10 minutes where Pools looked as though they might force something with two substitutes, Gavan Holohan and Will Goodwin, linking up but the striker was forced wide when trying to go around Covolan.
But with Sweeney’s side finally pressing for an equaliser they were caught out in stoppage time through another cheap goal as Pett was able to pick up a loose ball on the edge of the area and skip by three challenges before firing into the corner.
It was just another example of Pools failing to be clinical in one box and surrendering cheap goals in the other.
Still we wait for a manager
The necessity for Pools to appoint a new manager continues to grow with every defeat.
But it’s not just the players who need that stability in the dugout, the football club as a whole need to get out of the limbo in which they find themselves and that can only come by appointing a new manager.