Salford City 2-0 Hartlepool United verdict: Tactical changes fail to change 'toothless' Pools' away fortunes
The wait goes on…
It has been almost 600 days since Pools supporters have seen their team win an away league game in the flesh – a 1-0 win at Solihull Moors in March 2020 for those wondering.
If we’re talking Football League away wins, you'd have to go back to March 2017 – a 1-0 win at Cambridge United.
But did that deter fans from making Pools the best followed club in League Two on Saturday? Absolutely not.
Over 1,000 supporters packed into the away end at The Peninsula Stadium, making up almost half of the total crowd. But the match itself would give them virtually nothing to cheer about.
Dave Challinor raised a few eyebrows when the Pools team news dropped at 2pm with three changes from last weekend's win against Northampton Town.
Timi Odusina came back into the side in place of Luke Hendrie, Joe Grey was handed his first EFL start in place of the injured Luke Molyneux and Reagan Ogle made his full league debut for the club in place of Mark Shelton.
There was also a spot for Gavan Holohan on the bench after six weeks out with a groin injury.
Changes were expected for Pools but the changes made had the press box speculating just what formation the side would be playing. Where is Ogle playing? Is Jamie Sterry right-wing? Is it 4-4-2?
It quickly became apparent Pools would be continuing with their three centre-back set-up as seen in the pre-match warm-up.
There were a few tweaks with the side playing almost a 3-4-3 with a back three of Odusina, Neill Byrne and Zaine Francis-Angol. Jamie Sterry and David Ferguson kept their positions as wing-backs while Grey and Ogle played either side of Will Goodwin in attack.
But the line-up tinkering didn’t stop Pools getting off to the worst possible start.
On the two minute mark, Salford's Tom Elliott headed Brandon Thomas-Asante's cross into the ground and into the net to give the hosts an early lead.
Both Ferguson and Francis-Angol failed to deal with Thomas-Astante’s directness getting forward or prevent his cross into the box as a determined Elliott was able to bully Odusina and find the net.
After coming from behind last weekend, Pools would have to do the same again in order to pick up their first away win of the campaign.
But they offered virtually nothing response other than further tactical changes for the remainder of the half.
Odusina moved into the middle of the back three with Byrne swapping to the right. Then the side changed to a 4-4-1-1 set-up with Grey moving into the middle to support the isolated Goodwin.
The visitors' only shot of the first half came via Sterry cutting onto his left foot and curling a ball high and wide from 25-yards.
Something had to change and Challinor knew it. With just 34-minutes on the clock, Pools made their first substitution as Shelton came on for Francis-Angol, prompting yet another tactical tweak.
The change was a result of a slight niggle Francis-Angol had picked up, but given how Pools had started, it was a necessary one.
All the changing around left Pools players looking lost and unsure of their roles on the field as The Ammies were able to comfortably keep them at arm's length for the remainder of the half.
Pools were still just 1-0 down and the introduction of Mike Fondop at half-time was made in the hope of adding some much needed presence for Pools in the final third.
Having hooked Goodwin off at half-time, Challinor didn’t hold back or defend the teenage forward as he explained: “He wasn’t very good, that’s why I took him off.”
Fondop did keep the Salford defenders more occupied than Goodwin but the Cameroonian forward struggled to do the basics right in terms of controlling the ball and bringing his teammates into the game.
While Pools were struggling going forward, defensively they were holding firm with Odusina and Byrne dealing with what was thrown their way without too much fuss.
Even when Salford were able to break through, Ben Killip was there to make a fine close range save from Conor McAleny’s effort. The Pools stopper then denied Elliott shortly after to keep his side in with a shout of stealing something from the game.
Just before the hour mark, Pools made their third and final change of the match as Holohan made his return from injury in place of Grey, whose full EFL debut had been a frustrating one.
The Irish midfielder was able to add more energy in the final third and got his foot on the ball more than any of his attacking teammates.
He found space down the left side of the box but could only drag a shot wide of the right post. Fondop also headed a close range chance wide of the left post as Pools’ time was running out.
With five minutes to play, Salford put the nail in the coffin as the ball fell nicely to substitute Matty Willock who caressed it effortlessly into the bottom right corner from the edge of the box to make it 2-0.
It was no less than Pools deserved from the game. It took the side until deep into stoppage time to force their first corner or shot on target.
This was the most alarming of Pools’ away performances to date but it’s barely a surprise anymore. They offer very little up front and players are showing little signs of improvement or change, which is perhaps the most concerning thing.
What was initially a contrasting home and away record is now developing into an acceptance and a habit that Pools just aren’t capable of delivering away from Victoria Park.
Roll on Bradford on Tuesday.