Hartlepool United’s opening game of the season – a Capital One Cup first round tie at Crewe – involved them being the recipients of a romping, and watching an exhibition of football played in front of them.
However good Crewe were, Pools were poor. Scratch that, diabolical is a better word.
The front two of Max Clayton and Ajay Leitch-Smith caused dizziness that matched only that of a drunken night’s out for Peter Hartley and Sam Collins through the duo’s perpetual movement and ingenious dances behind the back line. The sickness feeling wasn’t a direct result of the circles been ran round the blue and white shirts, it was a result of watching appalling defending. Last season’s defence was, on the whole, locked shut. Clayton and Leitch-Smith had obviously turned locksmiths during the summer, unlocking the defence as easy as an open door.
Yet it would be criminal not to laud Alexandra. For every misplaced, slack and predictable pass served up by Pools, Crewe responded with their own brand of tika-taka.
Crewe arrived at kick off on the back of a highly successful pre-season, and they were clearly fine tuned for the start of the new campaign. Neale Cooper’s side, on the other hand, dished up a performance marred with rustiness and the fair few doses of calamities. Against a forward line of Clayton, Leitch-Smith and the robust Mathias Pogba, being punished was inevitable.
Such damage arrived after only 7 minutes. Peter Hartley clattered into a red shirt, making its way towards goal. A yellow followed, but worse was to come. The ball was chipped over the wall and Leitch-Smith swiveled, demanding the scoreboard’s first work of the season.
The scoreboard was quickly back in use, signalling goal 2, 3 and 4. Leitch-Smith portrayed poetic running in tandem with Clayton, the former tucking the ball back inside off the by-line, teeing up Clayton who side footed beyond Flinders.
Goal three was next, and the third episode in what would later be a series of defensive nightmares being broadcast. Neil Austin turned ball-watcher, allowing Pogba to slip in behind him and meet a driven ball from the right.
If Austin was embarrassed then he was well and truly custard pied on 41 minutes. Clayton made another laughing stock out of Austin – and Jonathan Franks – to make full use of a counter attack and make it four.
If Crewe were fortunate to lead so early on having been on the end of an opening 7-minute battering, which saw Franks target Steve Howard with delicious crosses and Howard, Evan Horwood and Simon Walton both testing their fortune, their 4-0 half time lead was certainly not flattering; it was deserved.
James Poole was introduced at the expense of Luke James at half time but Pools couldn’t mastermind what would have been a cup comeback to end all cup comebacks. Yes, Pools enjoyed the ball’s comfort at more periods in the second half, but they failed to make any use out of it.
Walton, Monkhouse and a dejected-looking Howard registered efforts from outside of the box, but the chances of success ebbed away almost as soon as connection with the boot was made
Evan Horwood was the delivery man from the left. The deliveries were good, but there was no enthusiasm to meet them. Antony Sweeney – guilty of not assisting Walton in the middle – looped an effort over. Monkhouse was denied by the post, the closest Pools coming.
Abdul Osman and Ashley Westwood controlled the midfield as if presented with the ground’s deeds. Allowing Pools in sight of the ball didn’t unease Alexandra, for they were safe in the knowledge that their cup run was never in doubt.
Pogba made sure of the hosts’ passage into the next round by adding Collins to his victim tally late on, outmuscling him before finishing cooly. Pools were thankful the ninety minutes was up. At least it wasn’t the league.
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