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Heavy Weather at the Pool
By: Andrew Doherty
I can't say it's been a lifelong ambition to visit Hartlepool but here I am to watch Town. Moreover, it's a new ground and place to visit. Luckily I didn't come in 2003. We lost 8-1 that day.
It was a Friday evening so the result went under the radar, so no-one I knew spotted the result. Hartlepool are one of football's perennial strugglers. In spite of this, our record against them isn't that fantastic, especially away from home. They're still struggling now. On the way here I passed via Middlesborough. This is not a tourist area unless you're one for deprivation. Someone told me that there are no pigeons in Middlesborough. Why they told me and why I remember this fact is beyond me, but it comes to something when even the pigeons boycott a town. Passing through, it's easy to see why. Middlesbrough is depressing, and today it was wet but I got out alive. It was just as wet in Hartlepool. The screeching sound of seagulls could be heard. The police were out in numbers, and I sensed it is a bleak, weary and joyless place. I took a rainy walk to Mariners Point on the seafront, and in the harbour on the way spotted the Wingfield Castle which some may remember as one of the ferries which operated between New Holland Pier and Hull before the Humber Bridge was built. It was a little bright spot on this grey day so far.
Both teams lost on Tuesday, but in spite of the disappointing result and performance at Barrow, Town had to start today as favourites. My hope was that we weren't going to pack the team with midfielders and leave Taylor on his own up front with no-one to work off. This said, Taylor didn't perform well and nor did any of the midfielders on Tuesday, so hopefully Town were going to take the field rested, reset and ready to dominate play. The team appointed to do this in front of Town's 600 supporters were: Crocombe - Efete, Smith, Waterfall, Maher, Amos - Holohan, Morris, Clifton, - Richardson - Taylor. So Town had a changed line-up and formation with three central defenders in the side. Richardson's return was welcome, and although I like both Green and Morris, I haven't seen signs that they work well together.
The rain finally stopped but too late for the pitch to dry out. With the stiff breeze, playing conditions were going to be difficult. Town's pink kit contrasted with the gloomy sky here at the Suit Direct stadium, which like one of those letter exchange games I realised could easily be misread by someone with my eyesight. Crocombe's all tangerine kit was certainly a sight to behold. Town started well with good work from Efete on the right and Richardson attacking up the middle. On 5 minutes Town won a corner. An Amos Holohan one two didn't work but a minute later great battling work by Morris saw Town on the attack. After a move up the right Efete crossed. Richardson shot. Kill up saved. The ball was cleared but only to Holohan on edge of the box. Holohan's right-footed volley blasted into the top left corner. 1 - 0 to Town who continued to press. Good work by Richardson led to an Efete cross. Hartlepool finally had an attack on 12 minutes which Waterfall repelled. Morris was then booked for a mistimed tackle. Good back up work by Amos led to a Town attack, with Richardson finding Holohan but the defence got back in the nick of time. Morris made a good interception before Holohan had a snap shot. Clifton took advantage of a slip, leading to Efete winning a corner after running to the byline. Morris then blocked a shot by Sylla with a lorra lorra power before McDonald dragged the rebound wide. Taylor was then guilty of whistle-watching, stopping for an offside decision after an Efete pass. The decision never came and the opportunity was wasted. From this point Hartlepool came back into the game as Town started to be guilty of uncertainty and sloppy play. Waterfall was booked for dragging down Umerah. It seemed harsh. Crocombe saved McDonald's free kick, pushing the shot past the near post. From McDonald's cross, there was a scramble and Efete had to make a block before Crocombe fell on the ball. Maher then had to make a block with his foot and then his head as Hartlepool saw more of the ball. On 37 Richardson picked up the ball in midfield and surged forward, unselfishly laying off to Taylor who was in an offside position. Great work by Amos set up an attack. Holohan crossed. The ball was cleared. Hartlepool broke, and Crocombe saved the day by beating Umerah to the ball. A fluid move then earned the home side a corner. Crocombe gathered again, but apart from Town's bright start, Hartlepool were being allowed into the game as the home side weathered the storm, and Town lost momentum. The second half started with Clifton having an opportunity which Killip saved with his legs. Efete was then hauled down on the right as he burst forward. On 50 minutes a misunderstanding between Amos and Clifton let Hartlepool in. Cooke's low shot was expertly saved by Crocombe. Five minutes later the battling Richardson was fouled as he looked to break free. The ball was headed in. Smith went close - corner to Town. Smith then chased down Stephenson to win a corner. Holohan had a shot but Morris was offside. Richardson then saw specs and slid a ball through to Taylor but it lacked accuracy. Town were picking up their level of play. On 62 minutes Pepple replaced Taylor. Holohan won a free kick after being obstructed, and then Efete and Pepple linked up but Town weren't presenting any threat. On 67 minutes Clifton fouled Sylla. Featherstone sent in the cross. For once Crocombe dropped the ball for once but there were plenty of defenders to mop up. Pepple was then sent clear but with no-one in support had to wait before crossing. Clifton picked up the cross and laid off to Amos who crossed from the left. Pepple fought off the defender and turned, showing his physical power, but his shot was just wide of the post. On 69 minutes Green replaced the impressive Richardson, no doubt to shore up the midfield. Green attempted to chip a ball through to Pepple but was woefully inaccurate. A nice move on 75 minutes saw Holohan slip a ball through to Clifton who couldn't get power on his shot as he turned and shot towards goal. A minute later Hartlepool won a corner. A long ball came in. After winning an aerial battle, Ferguson headed the ball back into the penalty box where Lacey calmly headed the ball in. Town hadn't taken their chances, and had allowed Hartlepool back into the game. They were now punished for it. Town's players realised something was up, and suddenly showed some urgency. Holohan was fouled 25 yards out but Morris was penalised for being offside. But again Town, who were making heavy weather of this, couldn't take advantage. Pepple battled but couldn't win the game alone. Town weren't functioning as a team. On 81 minutes Ferguson crossed from the left. The ball seemed to evade everyone but Maher got a touch and sent it past Crocombe for an own goal. Hartlepool 2, Town 1. The introduction of Green hadn't worked. Town once again had lost their way. In desperation and maybe in recognition that packing the midfield wasn't such a great idea, Simmonds and Khan came on to give Pepple some support, replacing Maher and the tiring Morris. But Town had lost the initiative some time before. Efete burst forward, enabling Simmonds to win a corner, and although Town came close in the final seconds with four minutes added, there wasn't enough there. So it ended: Hartlepool 2, Town 1. In the end the performance was a massive disappointment for Town's 716 supporters in today's crowd of 4,600.
Town failed to take the opportunity offered after taking an early lead and playing well. Hartlepool stuck at it and Town's quality of play deteriorated. The writing was on the wall in the first half. Mr Hurst's decision to replace Richardson with Green was a strange decision, as Richardson was presenting our best threat. Morris was tiring and was the obvious choice. This decision was straight out of the Book of Hurst Negativity. To bring in two attacking players 10 minutes later was too late and smacked of desperation. It wasn't just about the tactics but about the whole performance which became more and more turgid and incohesive as the game went on. I can't imagine what the players were told at half time. I can't imagine they were reminded how well they played at the start. On this grey and rainy day, Town messed it up.
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