Hartlepool United chairman Ken Hodcroft lambasted the club’s poor cup runs last season. Therefore, there was pressure for Pools to improve on their first round exits in all three competitions this season. Unfortunately, the man at the top is left seething again this term.
League Cup: first round 5-0 defeat to Crewe amid an inept display littered with defensive frailties and a dearth of creativity.
Johnstone’s Paint Trophy: first round 4-2 defeat on penalties to League Two Bradford City after a 0-0 draw again devoid of any imagination.
The stark truth is Neale Cooper’s men are just not good enough. Besides their dreadful, premature cup exits, they sit second bottom of the League One. The facts are inescapable.
Defensive calamities have made it a tiresome start to the season. A catalogue of below-par performances on a game-by-game basis from a large bulk of the squad haven’t made things easier, too. Not possessing that killer-pass dissect the opposition’s defence haven’t helped. When they do arrive in their dribs and drabs, squandering chances have added to the woes. Failing to maintain sustained pressure in the final third for a decent length of time can be added to the list of ingredients that are culminating in a recipe for disaster. A recipe for relegation.
They were all in abundance against the Bantams, minus the defensive mistakes; although that’s largely due to the fact that Phil Parkinson’s men offered little themselves and centre-back Jack Baldwin was as composed as ever, sniffing out any potential danger like a well-trained police dog. Baldwin, 19, has only been at the club over 14 months. He’s the side’s best player. That in itself say a lot about the quality of the team.
In a drab first half, Ryan Noble had tested the keeper McLaughlin after breaking away and unleashing a shot from an acute angle. Former Pools man Richie Jones had a couple of chances, as did James Henson but Scott Flinders was in fine form.
It was only when Antony Sweeney – demoted to the bench to allow Ritchie Humphreys (in for Paul Murray) and Simon Walton (in for Sweeney) – entered the action after the hour that Pools looked like mustering a goal.
Sweeney had replaced Walton who had thought he was playing in a league above, relaxing on the ball as if he wasn’t going to be chased down. Mistake. He was sussed out and was soon spraying the ball around the pitch as wayward as his second-half miscued effort before his withdrawal.
Sweeney had two immediate chances, one outside the area, one just inside. The midfielder seemed to spark a lacklustre Pools, with the occasional plausible interchanges of football. Jono Franks crossed frequently, Darren Holden bursted forward.
The wave of pressure from the hosts was brief; it wasn’t to last.
The same can be said about Pools’ cup run. When Horwood’s penalty crashed off the underside of the bar and out with the penalties score reading 4-2 to Bradford, Pools’ cup run had ended. It was tedious at best while it lasted.
Hodcroft won’t be happy. Nor is Cooper and the disillusioned fans.
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