What happened in Hartlepool United's first pre-season friendly as Dave Challinor's side record resounding win over Runcorn Linnets
Hartlepool United made a winning start to pre-season with a resounding 9-1 win at non-league side Runcorn Linnets – as their new signings and several trialists were given a run out.
Pools boss Dave Challinor named two sides for each half, with new signing Reagan Ogle, who arrived from Accrington Stanley, starting at the back.
Midfielder Martin Smith and defender Neill Byrne were both in the squad and played in the second half after joining the club earlier in the week and will have benefitted from 45 minute cameos.
Pools recovered from a slow start at the Millbank Linnets Stadium, as home forward Joe Lynch put the Northern Premier League side ahead inside two minutes.
Yet a Gavan Holohan equaliser and two goals from separate trialists made it 3-1 before half-time, before the visitors added six more goals in the second half against a leaky defence.
In total, nine trialists featured for Pools over both halves, as Challinor continues to assess his options in the transfer market.
The Pools boss is attempting to build a competitive squad for next month’s League Two opener at home to Crawley on Saturday, August 7, a fixture which is approaching fast.
Just four weeks after their dramatic National League play-off final win over Torquay United, Challinor named three trialists in his starting XI.
Goalkeeper Ben Killip returned in goal after missing the end of last season with an elbow injury, as well as signing a new contract at the club.
Further forward, Ogle started the match at centre-back along with Gary Liddle and one of the trialists in a 3-5-2 system.
Jamie Sterry and David Ferguson lined up as the wing-backs, with Mark Shelton, Nicky Featherstone and Holohan in midfield.
Overall, six of the starting XI lined up in the game against Torquay a month ago, which at least showed some continuity.
Given the short turnaround, Pools’ slow start was perhaps understandable as Ogle was beaten for pace inside two minutes and a neat cutback from the Runcorn forward was converted by team-mate Lynch.
Pools responded immediately, though, and drew level five minutes later when Ferguson’s in-swinging free-kick travelled all the way to the back post and was stabbed home by Holohan.
Holohan was involved in some neat passages of play as the visitors began to take control and dominate possession on a sweltering hot afternoon.
As Runcorn dropped back to try and keep their shape, Pools looked to switch the ball to the flanks, where Ferguson and Sterry were able to stretch the play when the team’s centre-backs had the ball.
Yet it was a Runcorn mistake which led to the second goal of the match, when a loose pass allowed one of Pools’ forward trialists to go through on goal before rounding the goalkeeper to convert.
The warm weather prompted a drink’s break midway through the first half, as Pools began to gain momentum in midfield.
Still, a rare mistake from Liddle around the 20-minute mark almost allowed Runcon a route back into the game as the home defender was caught in possession. Pools managed to get back in numbers and the chance was squandered. From there it was one-way traffic.
Eventually Pools made their pressure count as a switch of play to the right found Sterry and the wing-back’s cross was headed home by the other forward trialist.
Challinor changed his entire XI at the half-time break, with six new trialists entering the fray.
In total, nine trialists featured, which highlighted Pools’ demand for players and their shortened off-season following a lengthy 2020/21 campaign which finished in the play-offs.
Josh MacDonald, Timi Odusina and Tom Crawford were all involved after the break, as well as Byrne and Smith who made their first appearances for the club.
Byrne was a vocal presence in Pools’ backline, instructing his team-mates to push up the pitch while trying to dribble the ball out of defence.
Despite the wholesale changes, the hosts kept up the pressure in the second half and added a fourth when a cross from the right was tucked away by one of the trialist substitutes.
With the hosts rocking, Pools almost added a fifth moments later, yet MacDonald’s inviting cross from the left wasn’t converted.
The fifth goal came from another Runcorn mistake as the hosts conceded possession in their own half and the same trialist who scored the fourth ran through on goal to score his second of the match.
Pools continued to look particularly threatening on the left and another attack down that flank led to the sixth goal. Runcorn’s defence had lost confidence and discipline and the difference in quality showed.
The visitors’ front three in the second half were all on trial, with one of them netting four goals, with the final one coming from the penalty spot, and another grabbing a brace against lower-league opponents.
How many of the trialists will continue to train with Pools remains to be seen and some may depart before next week’s trip to Spennymoor for the club’s second pre-season friendly.
Challinor’s side will also face Gateshead, Blyth Spartans and another away game, against a team yet to be confirmed, before they face Crawley on their Football League return in less than a month’s time.
This win was as routine as they come for Pools as they start their preparations for the new campaign.
Clearly there is plenty of work to do, especially in the transfer market due to the size of the squad.
Even so, Challinor won’t have too many complaints after this convincing result.
Pools first half XI: Killip, Sterry, Ogle, Liddle, Trialist, Ferguson, Featherstone, Shelton, Holohan, Trialist, Trialist
Pools second half XI: Trialist, MacDonald, Byrne, Trialist, Odusina, Trialist, Smith, Crawford, Trialist, Trialist, Trialist