ON the face of it a 2-1 friendly defeat at non-league Whitby Town will have set the alarm bells ringing for most Hartlepool United fans.
In reality, this was a young Pools side with older pros scattered throughout the team.
Luke James and trialist Tommy Miller were the only two to keep their places from the 3-0 Sunderland defeat, while Sam Collins made his first appearance of pre-season and Jonathan Franks also started up front.
Right-back Jordan Richards was captain for the day but the remaining outfield players were all aged 20 or under with just a handful of senior appearances between them.
With Colin Cooper making nine changes for the friendly encounter, this was by no means his first choice eleven.
But nonetheless it was a disappointing defeat and a missed opportunity for some of the fringe players to impress.
Evo-Stik Premier Division side Whitby weren’t even at full strength either and Cooper expressed his disappointment with the result.
Rightly so because while Pools may have dominated possession after the interval they didn’t do much with it and rarely caused the Town defence problems.
That changed late on when Marlon Harewood and Jack Compton entered the fray but Pools couldn’t find the equalising goal at the Turnbull Ground.
On the plus side, it was a good workout in warm conditions, the players will have benefited from further minutes and trialist Miller impressed during his 45 minute run out, playing in a slightly more advanced position.
Whether he has done enough to earn a contract could well be decided in the next 48-hours, with Cooper still pursuing other options including Jonathan Greening.
The performance level of the fringe players needs to improve though if they are to push for a first team spot.
The game also highlighted how painfully thread bare the squad is, with Pools ending the match with two 17-year-olds and a first-year professional on the pitch.
That said, it was actually two of the younger players that caught the eye, with midfielders Connor Smith – who scored his fourth goal of pre-season – and Lewis Hawkins impressing.
Whitby had former Pools players Lee Bullock and Mark Robinson in defence while ex-Pools right-back turned Whitby manager Darren Williams named himself on the bench and later came on for a 15 minute cameo.
Early on it was the home side that created the first chance at the picturesque seaside ground.
In just the 5th minute, Craig Farrell found himself free inside the penalty area with just Andy Rafferty to beat but his powerful strike was at a nice height for the Pools keeper who palmed it over the bar.
It was a fast flowing opening and three minutes later 19-year-old Pools left-back Dan Jones powered forward and struck a fierce drive, just about dealt with by Town keeper Shane Bland.
Whitby’s Chris Lynch looked handy and twice tested Rafferty but the Pools Number 2 – whose kicking looked suspect throughout the first-half – was equal to both shots.
Hawkins, who enjoyed a loan spell at Whitby back in 2011, looked sharp early on, while on the other flank Smith – a real bundle of energy – was catching the eye.
In the centre, trialist Miller looked tidy in possession, keeping the ball ticking over with first time passes and was well organised and vocal throughout his third game in the space of a week.
After 25 minutes, Franks played in Smith with a delicate through-ball. Smith forcing Bland into a smart save to his left.
After a brief stoppage for a water break, Whitby’s Lee Mason fired a strike from the edge of the penalty area inches wide of the right-hand post, the ball taking a slight deflection.
Smith then went close again, this time his effort dipped just over the bar as Pools looked to crank up the pressure.
The teenager finally got his rewards in the 39th minute, Smith stroking home the ball from just inside the penalty area after an assist from Miller.
The expectation was Pools would then kick-on but three minutes later the scores were level.
Lynch took full advantage of a loose ball inside the area to curl a low shot past the outstretched palm of Rafferty and into the right-hand corner of the net.
Cooper made two changes at the break, Rafferty replaced with Scott Flinders and 17-year-old Kieran Green on for Miller, with Hawkins moving into central midfield.
Miller’s departure was keenly felt as he left behind an inexperienced Pools midfield.
Whitby pushed forward looking to take advantage and in the 54th minute took the lead.
The Pools defence failed to clear a free-kick and Lynch’s low, drilled, effort from the edge of the penalty area gave Flinders no chance.
Once they’d taken the lead, Whitby sat back and Cooper’s youngsters were unable to make the most of the possession they were enjoying, with few chances of any note created.
Several substitutions for the home side – in front of 381 fans – disrupted the flow of the game and it became a scrappier affair.
Cooper turned to experienced duo Harewood and Compton from the bench in a bid to breathe some life into the Pools attack.
The ineffective James and Franks both struggled to click but in truth they had very little service.
Harewood made a smart turn and found himself with space inside the penalty area in the 83rd minute but his low pass only found the Town defence.
Compton, playing centrally alongside Harewood, should have been awarded a free-kick in the final five minutes but it was waved away.
Harewood looked to play in Hawkins but the midfielder was unable to make the most of the ball across goal and his effort was blocked.
There was to be no equaliser.
The poor second half, in particular, highlighted there is still a lot of work to do before the new season kicks off in less than a fortnight.
HARTLEPOOL: Rafferty (Flinders, 46), Richards (C), Collins, Nearney, Jones, Rowbotham, Hawkins, Miller (Green, 46), Smith, James (Compton, 79), Franks (Harewood, 79). Subs not used: Bates, Austin, Duckworth, Parnaby, Holden, Walker.