RICHARD MENNEAR’S ANALYSIS: Stout defence but Pools need goals

Scott Flinders in action against Tranmere Rovers. Picture by FRANK REID
Scott Flinders in action against Tranmere Rovers. Picture by FRANK REID
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PLUCKY Pools or lucky Pools?

The truth is probably somewhere in between.

Scott Flinders in action against Tranmere Rovers. Picture by FRANK REID

Scott Flinders in action against Tranmere Rovers. Picture by FRANK REID

But Colin Cooper’s Hartlepool United certainly had their work cut out to secure a point against a Tranmere Rovers team who had scored and leaked goals for fun this season.

Going into the match at Victoria Park, Rovers had scored 10 and conceded the same amount, while Pools have given away enough soft goals of their own this season.

So hopes were high for a goal-laden encounter but it wasn’t to be.

But that was more down to wayward finishing by the Rovers forwards than anything else, as Rob Edwards’ side racked up 17 efforts - compared to just two by Pools.

Jonathan Franks in action against Tranmere Rovers. Picture by FRANK REID

Jonathan Franks in action against Tranmere Rovers. Picture by FRANK REID

The key factor is only three of those efforts were on target and Scott Flinders was on hand to keep his side in the contest when it mattered.

On the positive side, another clean sheet and the defence seem to have put their early season frailties to one side - Matthew Bates and on-loan Sunderland defender Scott Harrison, in particular, were impressive throughout.

Harrison is here for an initial month but hopes are high he will be secured for the full campaign and that would be a solid piece of business, as he looks a real talent.

The 21-year-old has a crunching tackle, reads the game well, is immense in the air and can also play a bit as well, as he showed when he brought the ball out from the back.

Marlon Harewood in action against Tranmere Rovers. Picture by FRANK REID

Marlon Harewood in action against Tranmere Rovers. Picture by FRANK REID

So, while last week the forwards were getting the praise after a fluent and creative display in the 2-0 win over Shrewsbury Town, this week was the turn of the defenders.

Tranmere Rovers, relegated from League One last season, are a good side and taking a point off them isn’t a bad result.

But what is concerning, is the continued lack of options that manager Cooper has to pick from in order to change the game.

Early into the second-half fans were calling for a substitution and it eventually came in the form of Marlon Harewood, on for the ineffective Jonathan Franks, who had worked hard but didn’t see much of the ball.

Scott Harrison in action against Tranmere Rovers. Picture by FRANK REID

Scott Harrison in action against Tranmere Rovers. Picture by FRANK REID

Aside from Harewood and Michael Woods, who came on later, Cooper has little attacking options to choose from following the sale of Luke James to Peterborough United.

Loan signings lined up for Friday fell through and with a busy week facing Pools, new recruits are urgently needed - up front especially.

Performances like the one against Shrewsbury cannot just be a flash in the pan, more creativity and attempts on goal are needed on a regular basis.

Playing the ball on the floor would help - it spent too much time in the air on Saturday.

And with Pools sitting too deep it was hard for Charlie Wyke and Franks to bring others into play when they did get control of it.

Rovers dominated possession for large periods and had the clearer chances but Pools held firm to secure a point.

On Saturday, Cooper, made just the one change with Jordan Richards in for the injured Stuart Parnaby, with Michael Duckworth again missing with a hamstring injury.

Rovers lined up in a 4-5-1 formation, while wingers Jack Compton and Ryan Brobbel again started for Pools in an attacking 4-4-2 formation and it was another bright start.

The difference between this week and last though, was that Pools didn’t get the early goal and instead, Rovers had the first sight on goal in the 9th minute.

Forward Cole Stockton out-muscled Harrison near the six-yard box but flashed his shot across the face of goal.

Three minutes later and Richards’ pass back to Flinders was short.

Stockton found himself in on goal but the onrushing Pools keeper made himself big and smothered the shot well - a crucial save that kept his side in the game early on.

With just over 20 minutes gone, Stockton had his third attempt but his free header was straight into Flinders’ gloves.

The home side’s best effort of the half fell to Brobbel, it wasn’t an easy one though.

The on-loan Middlesbrough winger managed to get himself on the end of a Wyke knock-down but under pressure fired his shot over the bar.

Janoi Donacien then headed wide from another Rovers corner, while in the 38th minute Flinders was called on to tip over a Matt Hill free-kick from 25-yards.

The final chance of the half fell to Stockton, who shot just wide of the left-hand post - another warning to Pools who were living dangerously.

The following 45 minutes followed a similar pattern, with Marc Laird’s diving header going well wide and Abdulai Baggie flashing a shot across the face of goal.

In between that, Franks had an attempt on goal but his clever flick from a Compton cut-back was blocked.

Baggie, proving a real dangerman for Rovers, hit the crossbar with 20 minutes left with a well-struck shot that ballooned up and over.

He was later subbed, to the relief of the home defence.

Meanwhile, Harewood looked pumped up as he entered the fray.

But it was soon backs to the wall again for Pools, who were sitting too deep and inviting pressure.

Cooper then made a double substitution with Woods and Darren Holden coming on, the former rashly shooting wide from distance in the 87th minute.

It was a tense final few minutes and Harrison had to fling himself in the way of a George Donnelly shot from the edge of the area as Pools looked to hold on for a deserved point.

At the very least, the defence is now looking a solid unit ahead of two tricky away ties at Northampton Town on Tuesday and Plymouth Saturday. Fans will be hoping for much-needed new blood to the squad.