The four big talking points from Hartlepool United's 1-0 win at Dagenham & Redbridge – the streak continues despite goalkeeping heroics
Hartlepool United are keeping up with the pace at the top of the National League table.
Luke Armstrong’s header on the stroke of half-time was enough to see Dave Challinor’s side claim another three points and remain second in the table.
But that didn’t tell the full story of how things went down at the Chigwell Construction Stadium.
Here are the four big talking points from the game…
A change of formation
Manager Dave Challinor made three changes from the side that beat Woking 1-0 at Victoria Park on Saturday – prompting a change of shape.
As expected, Luke Williams dropped onto the bench after a solid 70-minutes against The Cards. Gavan Holohan came into the side in his place while Mark Shelton replaced Tom White in central-midfield.
The return of Lewis Cass from suspension saw Pools switch to a 3-5-2 formation as winger Luke Molyneux reverted back to the bench.
Ryan Donaldson and Tom Crawford missed out entirely as defender Timi Odusina returned from his suspension as a substitute.
And with Dagenham playing a very similar 3-5-2 shape, it was important Hartlepool got on the front foot and outfought their hosts.
But that didn’t quite go to plan initially…
Within minutes of kicking-off, Dagenham should have gone in front as Scott Wilson’s close range header looped over the Pools crossbar following a corner.
It was a great opportunity squandered by the hosts and an early warning sign for Pools.
Challinor’s side did manage to get a foothold in the game shortly afterwards. Rhys Oates showed a good turn of pace to burst into the Daggers’ penalty area, only to go down under a challenge.
The muted appeals for a penalty were quickly waved away by substitute referee Matthew Morrison (match referee Robert Whitton was injured in the pre-match warm-up).
But other than that, Pools struggled to threaten as Dagenham started to threaten as the home side.
A fine attacking move ended with Mohammed Sagaf’s close range effort being brilliantly blocked by Ryan Johnson when it looked a certain goal.
The resulting corner was then almost glanced in by Angelo Balanta as Pools continued to live dangerously with Wilson forcing a good stop from Ben Killip shortly afterwards.
The Daggers looked a far better side than their 16th position in the table suggested and would have been frustrated not to have taken the lead heading into half-time. But just before the break, Hartlepool hit them with a sucker punch.
Oates’ pace down the right won a corner for Pools in the 44th-minute. David Ferguson delivered and Armstrong arrived with a bullet header to put the visitors in front with their first decent opportunity of the game.
It was Armstrong's 11th goal in 20 league appearances for Hartlepool this season and one that gave them a platform to go on and take the three points.
Despite being second best for the majority of the first half, Pools almost took a 2-0 lead in at half-time as another corner saw the ball fall to Gary Liddle, whose close range effort rebounded back off the post.
Not just a Tesco sandwich
With the lead, that game opened up and Pools started to create more and more chances.
And that’s when it became the Elliot Justham show with the Daggers’ goalkeeper making a string of spectacular saves to keep the hosts in the game.
Nicky Featherstone’s cross from the left fell to Armstrong at the back post and the net was expected to bulge. But no, Justham put in a fine block before somehow parrying the rebound away to keep the score at 1-0.
A minute later, Holohan’s low drive from the edge of the box was palmed wide of the left post.
Despite those chances to put the game to bed, Hartlepool were able to limit Dagenham to very little at the other end in the second half as they controlled the game well in possession.
But in the final moments, Justham was in action again with another round of fine stops to deny Oates and Jamie Sterry as well as Armstrong one on one in the final minute.
Fortunately that man of the match display didn’t come back to haunt Pools as they were able to see out the 1-0 win.
1-0 to the Hartlepool
These 1-0 wins aren’t a bad habit to get in to and each of Pools’ last four victories in the National League have come with that scoreline.
While Challinor admitted he’d like to see his side win matches more comfortably, the consistency the side are showing only bodes well going into the final 11 games of the season.
The team have now kept eight clean sheets in their last 13 games and have gone 10 without tasting defeat. Given this season is likely to be only 42 games long (Dover Athletic decision pending), going unbeaten for almost a quarter of it is an impressive feat.
The win extends Pools’ gap inside the top seven to 13 points, meaning just a few more wins should be enough to secure a play-off place this season.
But right at the top, everyone else is keeping the pace with all of the top four sides winning on Tuesday evening.
Sutton United remain four points clear of second placed Pools with three games in hand. We’ve been waiting on them to slip up but it’s just not happening yet.
While winning the league remains a very ambitious target for Pools, earning a top three finish and a favourable play-off draw is looking like a more realistic challenge.
And next up is a trip to fourth placed Stockport County. A huge game with potentially significant ramifications on the top three as Hartlepool look to stretch their unbeaten run to 11.