Phil Tooley takes a look at the game and its context
Hartlepool United 3 Chesterfield 1 National League
I didn’t see that coming! After the many superlatives heaped on the team after the win at Bromley, which followed a frustrating result but more than solid performance at Wrexham, the first half at Victoria Park was not where we want to be or where we need to be.
James Rowe told me afterwards that it was his worst 45 minutes in football management, and I can’t argue with that. He was clearly hurting as would have been every watching or listening Spireite. The second-half revival was there to see, but it was much too little much too late against a team that had earned the right to play low-risk football after the break.
Hartlepool United’s win at The Technique back in October was my best team we’ve played this season marker and the Monkey Hangers now hold the top two positions in that meaningless league table. For what it’s worth, the local BBC commentators sitting next to me said the first half was the best Pools have played all season, and sadly it matched up with our worst 45 under Rowe. The referee let play flow, and didn’t use a card throughout, meaning that from 5.20pm until seven minutes past six, we were probably the third best team on the park.
With Gavin Gunning ruled out, and seemingly a doubt for the visit of leaders Torquay United on Bank Holiday Monday, the defence looked fragile from the off, and they failed to react quick enough to prevent Grant Smith’s save from Gavan Holohan being converted on the rebound by Rhys Oates for an early setback.
The biggest surprise was that it took Pools until the 39th minute to extend their lead with a goal that had the locals purring after Jamie Sterry’s sublime control and pass was own goaled by Josef Yarney, who had to get something on it as Luke Armstrong would have rolled into an empty net if not.
Danny Rowe showed his shooting power with a free-kick and a rare Chesterfield chance before a goal that confirms that when you’re on it, luck is with you. Holohan hit the post with as easy a chance as you can get after ex-Spireite Gary Liddle crossed in, only for Armstrong to follow up quickest and kill the game stone dead. Half-time couldn’t come soon enough, and sadly, that was an eighth consecutive half-time break that had seen a scoreline incorporating the phrase Chesterfield nil.
We’d been mullered down the flanks, through the middle and over the top but the fact that Hartlepool looked hungrier was, for me, the biggest disappointment. Teams play well and teams play badly, but hunger needs to be a given. We’ve seen a lack of it for years, so we know what it looks like, it’s just that (thankfully) we’ve not seen it much of late.
The BBC Radio Tees guys were wondering how many more they’d get after the break, but a switch to 4-3-3 and the introduction of Liam Mandeville, easily the only bright spot of the afternoon, led to Chesterfield winning the second half and Fraser Kerr scoring his first Chesterfield goal against his former club, but he’ll not remember the game with much fondness. He became the fourth player on the trot to score his first goal for the club following Kairo Mitchell, Jack Clarke and George Carline. Let’s hope Danny Rowe makes it five against Torquay (and being greedy, Manny Oyeleke – six!)
The performance has led to more questions than answers. Best central centre back with Gunning out? What about Evans? Whelan v Clarke? Whittle v Taylor? McCourt to return? How should we use Rowe? Where are the goals coming from?
All valid and healthy debates to be had after six games of a seven-match run against promotion hopefuls that have spawned just five points and put doubts in the minds of many supporters for the first time in a while.
My question is ‘Who’d you want to play at home in such circumstances?’ Answer: Torquay United. They’ve visited our town 21 times in points offering games over the years and our record is: WWDWWDWWWWDWWWWWDWDWW. No team has been on our grass more times without returning home with maximum points (I’ll let them have the 2011 FA Cup win!). Add to that our all-time record on Star Wars Day minus one (May 3) of P10 W7 D3 L0, I expect the force to be with us.
Phil’s Positive: My wife Sylvia contacting me after the game to say we’d won the 50-50 draw!
The Spireites’ next game is on Monday, May 3 at home to leaders Torquay United in the National League, kick-off 3pm.
Team v Hartlepool (3-5-2 to start): G Smith; Yarney, Kerr, Maguire; Carline, Weston, Oyeleke, Clarke (Mitchell 82), Taylor (Mandeville 46); Rowe, Tyson (Rowley 54).
Subs (not used): Whelan, M.Smith
Goals: Kerr 61 (Chesterfield), Oates 5, Yarney (og) 39, Armstrong 43 (Hartlepool)
Ref: Daniel Middleton