Hartlepool United suffered their first friendly defeat in two years as they were beaten 1-0 at Spennymoor Town on Tuesday night in their second pre-season match.
It was a fairly disjointed affair with Frank Mulhern’s 10th minute header separating the sides. Pools’ team was made up of eight trialists in total with wholesale changes made on the hour mark.
The pre-season mentality often means results are ultimately secondary to working on fitness and match sharpness. But Dave Challinor’s brutally honest post match verdict provided a clear reminder of Hartlepool’s mentality heading into the League Two season.
"Football is about winning,” he said after the game, far from happy with his side’s performance.
It was exactly a month since Pools secured promotion with a play-off final penalty shoot out win over Torquay United at Ashton Gate. They’ve since tied 15 players down and have agreements in place with a few more which are to be confirmed.
But the shortened pre-season means they are just over two weeks away from starting their League Two campaign on August 7. There’s no time for bedding in or patience, Pools have to be sharp and at it.
Unfortunately that wasn’t the case at the Brewery Field as a typical early pre-season friendly unfolded.
Timi Odusina and Ben Killip were the only two starters on Tuesday night who featured prominently in Pools' promotion campaign. As expected, the team struggled to find any real rhythm or synergy in their play with heavy touches, misplaced passes and teammate collisions occurring frequently.
Pools started with their recognisable three at the back formation with Odusina on the left, a trialist in the centre and new signing Neill Byrne on the right. Reagan Ogle and Zaine Francis-Angol (named as a trialist) were the two wing-backs as an unfamiliar Pools side struggled to get a foothold in the game.
Matters weren’t helped when Mark Cullen, who was listed as a trialist due to severance reasons, was forced off with a hamstring injury after just five minutes. Fortunately his injury isn’t thought to be serious as he’s expected to be back in time for Pools’ final pre-season match, which is yet to be confirmed.
Shortly after, Spennymoor took the lead as Rob Ramshaw’s free-kick delivery from the right was glanced into the left side of the goal by Mulhern.
For the remainder of the half, Pools never really looked like scoring with Byrne and his trialist defensive partner both heading wide from free-kicks as the sides went in at 1-0.
Wholesale half-time changes were expected but only Tom Crawford and trialist Olufela Olomola came onto the pitch in place of two other trialists. It wasn’t until the hour mark when Challinor finally made his move.
At that point, Pools’ team became significantly more recognisable with Gary Liddle, David Ferguson, Josh MacDonald, Nicky Featherstone, Mark Shelton and Gavan Holohan all making their way onto the pitch.
Injured Jamie Sterry and Joe Grey were in attendance but watched from the stands as Pools’ performance picked up in the final half-hour.
As expected, they started to pass with more fluidity and enjoyed greater spells of possession in search of an equaliser.
And they also thought they’d levelled with Olomola finding the net following Shelton’s clever pass only for the offside flag to be raised.
Ramshaw also had a golden chance to make it 2-0 on the counter attack but blazed his first time effort over the bar from close range.
In total, eight trialists and 13 contracted players were involved in the match with only Sterry and Grey sitting out.
Luke Molyneux, fresh from agreeing a new deal, was probably Pools’ bright spark in the first half as the only player successfully able to show a turn of pace and beat his man with any real conviction. Unfortunately his efforts came to very little prior to his withdrawal.
Transfer listed MacDonald was among the liveliest of Pools' players in the final half-hour at right back as he showed plenty of tenacity to get forward and put some teasing crosses into the box.
None of the trialists did anything to convince Challinor to get the contract out as they failed to cause Spennymoor any real problems. Most won’t be invited back.
But Olomola was the pick of the bunch as he at least showed some good movement and endeavour to attack and try and get Pools back in the game.
The match ended 1-0 in Spennymoor’s favour and Pools could have few complaints about the result, after all they had failed to register a clear shot on target in the game.
It was a decent run out for Hartlepool and a lot more fierce and competitive than Saturday’s trip to Runcorn Linnets, but it certainly highlighted the work that needs doing over the next two weeks or so.
With no disrespect to the Moors, Pools should be looking to not only beat but out work and out run their part-time National League North counterparts – they failed to do that.
And that's probably the crux of Challinor’s frustration as he heads back to the drawing board looking to assemble a squad ready for Crawley Town in League Two on August 7.
Two more National League North opponents await Pools in the next week with a trip to Gateshead on Saturday (3pm kick-off) followed by a visit to Blyth Spartans on Tuesday night (7:30pm).
Hopefully some of the early pre-season rust has shed by then.