Tranmere Rovers 1-0 Hartlepool United verdict: Pools a work in progress to be proud of after being dealt a harsh lesson in taking chances

Hartlepool United were dealt a harsh lesson at Prenton Park on Saturday afternoon.

Sunday, 5th September 2021, 11:45 am

The side’s best performance of the season in many aspects, lacking only in cutting edge, turned into a disaster as Tranmere Rovers snatched a 1-0 win with a last minute header from Tom Davies.

‘Dominated’ is a strong word but Pools were certainly on top for the vast majority of the game, creating numerous chances that they failed to convert.

The match saw Pools boss Dave Challinor return to the club where he made his name as a tough-tacking, long-throwing defender between 1994 and 2002. He made 140 appearances for Tranmere in total, captaining the club for the 2-1 League Cup final defeat to Leicester City in 2000.

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Tranmere players celebrate their goal during the Sky Bet League 2 match between Tranmere Rovers and Hartlepool United at Prenton Park, Birkenhead on Saturday 4th September 2021. (Credit: Ian Charles | MI News)

And of the many happy times he experienced as a player at Prenton Park, his first visit as a Football League manager was anything but.

Team news

Challinor named an unchanged starting line-up from the previous two league wins over Walsall and Carlisle United with the hope it would produce the same result.

Zaine Francis-Angol, Gary Liddle, Jamie Sterry and Gavan Holohan all shook off knocks to keep their place in the starting line-up.

David Ferguson heads over against Tranmere (photo: Frank Reid).

Meanwhile, Nicky Featherstone captained the side for his 300th appearance in a Hartlepool shirt. Only 17 players in the 113 year history of the club have appeared more times.

Impressive goalscoring displays in the Papa John’s Trophy at Carlisle for Matty Daly, Luke Molyneux and Fela Olomola weren’t enough to see them promoted to the starting line-up for league action as the trio remained on the bench.

A scrappy start

Pools were up against Tranmere side who made the League Two play-offs last season and were striving for promotion once again.

Tempers flare between the teams during the Sky Bet League 2 match between Tranmere Rovers and Hartlepool United at Prenton Park, Birkenhead on Saturday 4th September 2021. (Credit: Ian Charles | MI News)

But with just one win in their opening five league matches going into the game, perhaps this was a good time to face Micky Mellon’s side?

It certainly seemed that way in the first half as Pools persevered with a scrappy and feisty start to the game before creating some decent opportunities.

As is often the case with Pools, crosses seemed to be their most likely route to finding a breakthrough. Will Goodwin saw a glanced header cleared early on while Tyler Burey’s ball into the box was met by a late arriving David Ferguson who just couldn’t properly connect.

And Sterry put in several quality balls in from the right which were only lacking the final touch.

That would be the story of Pools’ frustrating afternoon.

A missed opportunity

Sterry unleashed a fine strike which looked to be curling into the bottom left corner from the edge of the box only for the ball to bend just slightly too much onto the post. Featherstone looked to turn in on the follow up but his close range effort was blocked.

The second half saw Pools continue to get balls into dangerous areas with Burey seeing a shot deflect wide before Goodwin put another teasing ball across the face of goal.

The tensions that were bubbling under the surface from kick-off almost reached boiling point as Gary Liddle was pushed down by Tranmere’s Peter Clarke, leading to a full team confrontation inside the Pools half.

Referee Chris Sarginson took his time and conferred with his assistant before showing Clarke a yellow card.

That seemed to spur both sets of players – as well as the fans – on in the second half.

Pools were backed by 788 travelling supporters who made their presence felt throughout the afternoon despite the lack of goals. Chants of ‘Challinor’s better than Mourinho’ echoed throughout the ground.

Directly in front of them, Goodwin and Featherstone both saw good opportunities go begging but Pools were continuing to play with an intensity and endeavour that kept them on the front foot.

Make no mistake, this is a Hartlepool team the fans can be proud of in the way they conduct themselves and compete with whatever side is put against them.

But it is still very much a work in progress.

And the longer the game remained 0-0, the more an experienced Tranmere side sensed their opportunity.

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Smash-and-grab

The loss of Tyler Burey to injury and the introduction of former Pools midfielder Josh Hawkes ultimately turned the game in Rovers’ favour.

Challinor admitted his side were ‘flagging’ in the closing stages with both Liddle and Holohan carrying knocks as Tranmere started to pile on the pressure.

Out of nowhere, a game that should have been out of sight for Pools was now a hanging on job.

And in the final minute of normal time, Hawkes’ clipped corner was nodded in by an unmarked Davies to complete Tranmere’s smash-and-grab.

As harsh as it sounds, Pools’ failure to adequately replace the poaching instincts of Luke Armstrong has cost them three points at Prenton Park and it likely won’t be the last time it happens this season.

They have no problem creating chances – but if no one is there to put them away, they will be punished. That’s the harsh reality of League Two football.

While Pools are still finding their feet, their performances in the opening month of the season have shown they have nothing to fear. They have gone toe to toe with a side who finished in the play-offs last season and outplayed them for the majority of the game.

But playing well doesn’t win you football matches, goals do.

Pools XI (5-3-2): Killip; Ferguson (Ogle 64), Francis-Angol, Liddle, Byrne, Sterry; Featherstone, Shelton, Holohan (Olomola 90); Burey (Molyneux 63), Goodwin

Pools subs: Odusina, Smith, Daly, Mitchell

Pools bookings: Sterry (36), Byrne (55)

Tranmere XI (5-3-2): Murphy; Dacres-Cogley, Clarke, Davies, Knight-Percival, Morris; Duffy (Hawkes 73), Spearing, Watson; Maynard (McManaman 63), Nevitt

Tranmere subs: Doohan, Merrie, Feeney, Glatzel, Foley

Tranmere bookings: Clarke (55)

Referee: Chris Sarginson

Attendance: 6,707 (788 Pools)

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