Wealdstone 2-7 Hartlepool United verdict – Richie Bennett and Pools make National League title credentials clear with emphatic away win
It was seventh heaven for Hartlepool United on Saturday afternoon as they ran riot at Wealdstone to remain top of the National League table.
The 7-2 win, Pools’ biggest in the fifth tier, almost overshadows the fact that they are now 15 unbeaten and in first place with six games remaining of the 2020-21 campaign.
A Richie Bennett hat-trick, Rhys Oates brace, Nicky Featherstone penalty and Mark Shelton strike saw Pools 7-0 up going into the closing stages before debut substitute Sonny Blu Lo-Everton and Ryan Gondoh scored two fine late consolation goals to make the scoreline slightly less embarrassing for the hosts.
Dave Challinor made one change from the side that beat Notts County 2-0 at Victoria Park last weekend.
Top scorer Luke Armstrong surprisingly dropped to the bench for the first time with the returning Rhys Oates taking his place. It would prove to be an inspired decision.
New signing Danny Elliott was named as part of a very attacking group of substitutes for Pools with Ryan Donaldson and Luke Williams also named. Goalkeeper Brad Young made up the five with Luke Molyneux and Tom White dropping out of the matchday squad.
Close to call?
Believe it or not, for 25-minutes, this was anyone’s game. Pools had started brightly with Gavan Holohan twice coming close but just as Wealdstone were growing into the game, the visitors pegged them back.
Centre-back Gary Liddle ventured forward and put in a clever cross from the right for Oates to collect, turn on the spot and find the bottom right corner to give Pools the lead.
Wealdstone didn’t look too disheartened by the goal and continued to get bodies forward with Michael Phillips forcing a good save from Henrich Ravas.
But as soon as Pools found a second goal, it was one way traffic.
Bennett puts Wealdstone to the sword
Loan revelation Bennett made it 2-0 as he headed in Oates’ cross from close range to grab his third as many games for Pools. Minutes later he made it 3-0 by reacting quickly to poke his initial effort home on the rebound.
A frantic end to the first half saw Oates head onto the bar as Hartlepool went in at half-time in complete control.
Challinor’s side picked up right where they left off in the second half as Bennett chested a throw-in perfectly into the path of Oates who arrowed the ball into the bottom left corner of the goal to make it 4-0 before the 50-minute mark. The forward was withdrawn in place of new-boy Elliott shortly afterwards.
You knew it was a special day for Pools when they won their first penalty in the National League since the opening weekend of the season. A Wealdstone player handled in the penalty area following Lewis Cass’ flick.
Despite Bennett being on a hat-trick, Featherstone stepped up and converted with aplomb to make it 5-0.
Shelton then made it 6-0, although Bennett tried to claim it initially before admitting that he didn’t touch the ball in his post match interview.
The Stockport County loanee still got the chance to get his hat-trick after he was pulled down inside the penalty area. This time Featherstone stepped aside as Bennett became the first Pools player to score a National League hat-trick in only his second start.
At 7-0, Wealdstone were proving to be the perfect whetstone for Pools as they finally put a team well and truly to the sword.
Regardless of how the game finished, Pools aren’t the type of side to get carried away following a big win like this, Challinor simply wouldn’t allow it.
But Wealdstone’s end to the game – not too dissimilar from the reverse fixture at Victoria Park back in January – brought Hartlepool down to earth just that little bit.
A fine solo goal from new loan signing Lo-Everton made it 7-1 before Gondoh drilled the ball into the top right corner from the edge of the box just before the full-time whistle.
A frantic, non-stop afternoon of football finally finished 7-2 as Pools remained top of the table in style.
Hartlepool have been good at grinding out wins this season, single goal victories have been commonplace during their impressive run of form.
But with the chances they create, a win like this was always likely to happen at some point. And it’s come at the perfect time.
The result has given Pools’ goal difference a welcome boost and has them virtually guaranteed to secure at least a play-off place for the first time since the 2004-05 season in League One.
It’s only three points, but with a play-off place all but secured, do they look to go one better?
As far as statement’s go, a 7-2 away win is a big one as we head into the final six weeks of the season.
Hartlepool sit top of the table but have played three games more than Sutton United and Torquay just below them. Realistically, those sides will overtake Pools with their games in hand at some point.
Last month, Challinor said his side would have to win 10 of their final 12 games in order to be in with a good chance of winning the league title.
They’ve since won four and drawn two – the momentum is with them with half a dozen games remaining.
Pools are still the outsiders of the three, but remember when everyone thought Torquay had the league wrapped up, and then Sutton? After all of that, Pools are the team who sit top, so why not them?
Pools XI: Ravas; Ferguson, Odusina, Liddle, Cass (Donaldson 69), Sterry; Featherstone, Shelton, Holohan (Williams 69); Oates (Elliott 56), Bennett
Pools subs: Armstrong, Young
Pools bookings: Ferguson (90)
Wealdstone XI (3-5-2): Shelvey; Olowu (Charles 66), Cawley, Okimo; Mendy, Dyer, Phillips, Smith (Lo-Everton 66), Green; Gondoh, Lewis
Wealdstone subs: Askew, Wishart, Parish
Wealdstone bookings: none
Referee: Tom Reeves
MOTM: Richie Bennett