Swindon Town 3-1 Hartlepool United: Four key talking points with positives to take despite fourth straight defeat
Hartlepool United’s worrying run of form in League Two continued as Swindon Town beat them 3-1 at The County Ground on Tuesday night.
It was Pools’ fourth straight league defeat as Jonny Williams’ second half header was cancelled out by Matty Daly only for Swindon to seal the three points with goals from Tyreece Simpson and Jack Payne.
While the scoreline was the same as Saturday’s defeat against Forest Green Rovers at The Suit Direct Stadium, there were some positives to take from Hartlepool’s performance this time out.
Here are some key talking points from the game…
The return of Tom Crawford
After playing his first minutes of EFL football for Pools off the bench on Saturday, Crawford was thrown into the midfield in place of Mark Shelton as one of two changes made by Antony Sweeney.
The other change was forced as Reagan Ogle replaced the suspended Jamie Sterry at right wing-back.
Crawford had started just one other league game for Pools in 2021 and that came all the way back in February with a 2-0 win over Solihull Moors in the National League.
While Pools didn’t get the result they wanted, the 22-year-old old more than held his own for the most part as he exercised his good range of passing, was brave in showing for the ball in tight areas and recycling possession – he also made some important defensive contributions.
As a whole, Hartlepool’s midfield unit were significantly more organised and effective in possession than they were on Saturday. Nicky Featherstone was getting close to his play-making best and almost saw Pools open the scoring with a great run and exchange of passes with Matty Daly.
A late, late call
Featherstone’s shot on goal was parried by Swindon stopper Jojo Wollacott into the path of Mark Cullen, who prodded home to give Pools a supposed lead.
Cullen had time to run over the corner flag, be joined by his teammates and fully celebrate finding the back of the net only for the linesman to raise his flag with an extremely late call.
It was likely the correct decision, but the timing of it left a lot to be desired – much to the frustration of the away side.
The first half, while goalless, was an exciting contest between two sides looking to get forward and attack at every opportunity.
Ben Killip was called into action in the Hartlepool goal as he had to be quick to react to Harry McKirdy’s shot and parry away the danger.
At the other end, Luke Molyneux had a couple of chances from distance and was able to force a low save from Wollacott.
End to end
After an open but closely fought first half, Pools had their best chance of the game just two minutes into the second half as Crawford showed good vision to slide in Daly who took a touch before seeing his effort deflect over.
The away side were left to rue that missed opportunity five minutes later as McKirdy floated the ball into the penalty area from the byline for an unmarked Williams to arrive late and give Swindon the lead with a bullet header.
Pools responded well to going behind and continued to create chances. David Ferguson connected arguably too well with the ball inside the box as his effort came crashing back off the bar but Pools maintained the pressure to score from their very next attack.
An intelligent ball from Molyneux found Ogle down the right to play in a low cross for Daly to turn in first time for his sixth of the campaign.
At that point, Pools looked to have the momentum behind them as they continued to turn the screw.
Swindon had to defend well as Ferguson was played in by Cullen which prompted a flurry of chances before the hosts were able to scramble clear.
Substitute Fela Olomola should have given Pools the lead with his first touch as he arrived to meet Daly’s cross but couldn’t find the connection required.
And it was another case of Pools being punished for letting a chance go begging as Simpson showed good strength and control to ride two challenges from Gary Liddle and Neill Byrne before blasting the ball into the back of the net to put the hosts in front once again.
Two experienced defenders such as Liddle and Byrne ought to have dealt with the danger better as Swindon ruthlessly punished Pools.
Killip then made an important save to deny Simpson and keep Pools in the game late on.
Gavan Holohan came off the bench to mark his return from a calf injury with an effort which deflected narrowly over the crossbar. But that proved to be Hartlepool’s last decent opportunity of the game as their threat from corners was non-existent, something highlighted by Sweeney in his post match interview.
Deep into stoppage time, Swindon countered to wrap up the three points as Payne bore down on goal before producing a fine finish into the bottom right corner from 20-yards to make it 3-1.
The scoreline flattered Swindon as Pools were given another lesson in taking chances.
The time Sweeney had been buying Pools now appears to be up. Tuesday’s result sees the side drop to 15th in the League Two table having picked up zero points and conceded 13 goals in their last four league outings.
A total of 11 points from their last 12 league games isn’t particularly promising when looking at the bigger picture either.
The need for a new manager is apparent, particularly after the last two matches. Sweeney and the Pools players can’t afford to be left in interim limbo much longer ahead of a busy festive schedule.
Fortunately, the search is understood to have picked up some pace this week though its unclear whether a new manager will be appointed ahead of another tricky away trip to Port Vale this weekend.