System, the high press & defensive balance - SEVEN key areas Hartlepool United have improved

Paddy McLaughlin.
Paddy McLaughlin.
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Hartlepool United banished their Bromley demons with a remarkable result at Gillingham on Saturday.

Despite three National League defeats on the bounce, they showed battle, fight and considerable quality in out-classing League One Gills on their own turf in securing a well-deserved FA Cup replay.

Liam Noble.

Liam Noble.

But what was so different about the team at Priestfield, compared to the debacle at Hayes Lane just seven days previous?

Here our writer Liam Kennedy analyses the SEVEN areas in which Pools looked transformed.

SYSTEM/FORMATION

The most obvious difference between the two performances was the system deployed by manager Matthew Bates.

Bates was happy with it, and so too, it seems, were the players.

Four looked to suit the players more than a three-man defence. And long may it continue if Saturday’s performance is anything to go by.

PADDY MCLAUGHLIN IMPACT

He’s been a player who has divided opinion of late.

Many punters want to see him dropped and replaced by Michael Woods - not on this showing, though.

He was integral in every Pools break and dovetailed perfectly with left-back Mark Kitching, who was also much improved on the day.

FULL-BACKS - NO MORE SQUARE PEGS & DEFENSIVE BALANCE

Kenton Richardson and Mark Kitching looked totally at home on the right and left of a back four.

If the truth be told, they’ve never truly looked comfortable as wing-backs.

Peter Kioso and Kitching look a perfect fit on the flanks of a full strength back four with any two of Andrew Davies, Myles Anderson and Carl Magnay in the middle.

Anderson on the left and Magnay on the right in the centre of the back four gave a lovely symmetry to Pools’ backline.

Magnay was better on the ground, while Anderson did a lot of the dirty work. On the day it was a match made in heaven.

DONALDSON ADVANCE

In an attacking sense Ryan Donaldson is Pools’ biggest threat.

So, in light of that, it seems a shame to limit him to do a load of defensive work in a 3-5-2.

Set him free and he can seriously hurt teams. We saw hints of that on Saturday.

STRIKER OPTIONS IMPROVING

Pools are now back up to a the full four-man attack Bates wanted with the addition of Boro kid Tyrone O’Neill.

And although he looks raw, he looks like just what the doctor ordered - a big, physical, hand full.

Pools were craving something different up top and although it’s early days, it looks like they’ve found it.

HIGH PRESSING - A CHANGE IN APPROACH

This was not something we have seen from Pools this season.

From minute one, possibly with the idea of not letting the opposition settle into a rhythm, Pools pressed high.

It forced plenty of errors, rushed and misplaced passes from the Gills.

Whoever the opposition, this would be a tactic Pools should definitely retain.

INCREASED NOBLE INFLUENCE

I’ve said it before and I will say it again - when Liam Noble plays well, so do Pools.

He, and Nicky Featherstone, were absolutely outstanding on Saturday. They ran things from the middle, which is something they’ve not done enough of late.