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Another bad night at Victoria Park
THERE is little luck, not much joy or enjoyment, and even less sign of a change of fortune for Hartlepool United.
Games at Victoria Park are not proving much fun for anyone.
Last night they lost their seventh successive home game, conceded a penalty for the sixth successive home game, and lost two of their mainstays to injury.
After dragging themselves level with Bournemouth when Jack Baldwin scored his first career goal and only Pools’ ninth at home in 13 games, they lost their momentum – and the game – to a 61st minute spot-kick.
By then they had long lost Antony Sweeney to a twisted knee that could keep him out of Saturday’s haul to Portsmouth, while Steve Howard went off with a hamstring problem which could see him out for up to six weeks.
That should force John Hughes’ hand in the transfer market and he yesterday allowed midfielder Paul Murray to leave the club.
Murray has not played since the 1-1 draw at Walsall in November and is likely to move into coaching.
At least Pools’ next game is away from home – they have taken four points from their last two games away from Victoria Park. Scraping such a return in front of their own dwindling fan base is the stuff of dreams right now.
Pools were outplayed by the visitors in the opening half, as the Cherries controlled possession.
They dragged themselves level, somewhat fortuitously, but the outcome was regular.
“It’s a real bad stat with penalties, but you don’t win if you are giving goals away – not pointing blame at anyone,’’ reflected Hughes.
“We were outplayed first half and yet had the best two chances.
“Second half it was hard to get information over to stop them dictating and when we went on the front foot and gave a go at it we caused problems.
“We give ourselves problems at times. We need to keep a clean sheet, that’s what I’ve got to work on.’’ The only time they have kept a Victoria Park clean sheet was in their first home game. In fact it’s their only shut out of the League One campaign.
They could have been two goals down after eight minutes last night.
First Grabban blazed over from a short-corner routine and then Harry Arter headed over from a corner.
The opening goal came when Simon Francis, the right back who liked to get forward in the opening half especially, curled over a teasing cross for Josh Mc- Quoid to plant a header across Scott Flinders.
But Pools didn’t wilt and did have two clear first-half openings themselves.
First, with the scoreline at 0-0, Jon Franks was played in on goal, but fired too close to goalkeeper Shwan Jalal, preferred to David James who has now been demoted to the Cherries’ third-choice keeper.
Then a lovely move – Pools’ neatest of the game by far – saw Evan Horwood play in Franks to cross.
Ritchie Humphreys got into the area to meet the ball only to angle his free header wide of the mark when he should have made it 1-1.
For all their possession and confidence on the ball, with only a one-goal lead the Cherries were open to a leveller.
It did arrive on 51 minutes, with a double slice of fortune.
Pools were awarded a free-kick for a harsh handball offence. Evan Horwood took it and the ball swirled into area, deceived Jalal, hit the bar, bounced back down and Jack Baldwin dived in to head home a first career goal.
He took a kick in the face for his troubles, but didn’t mind one bit.
For ten minutes, a proper game was in danger of breaking out, one in which Pools actually managed to play a big part in.
The Cherries, who flew to the North-East yesterday morning, returning straight after the game, were a bit rattled.
Sam Collins planted a header wide from a corner and maybe people started to believe.
It didn’t last long, however.
A raking ball played in behind Horwood found Grabban, he played in Eunan O’Kane and Collins tripped him in the area.
Scott Flinders saved the last penalty he faced against Preston on January 1 – he’s had plenty of practice facing them – but Grabban scored this one.
From then on, Pools had a couple of half-chances, Howard had a shot saved before his hamstring injury.
Hughes added: “There wasn’t enough composure in passing and I’d like to think we are better in movement and passing than we are.
“We just keep saying ‘Hartlepool – is it expected to struggle?’ “Our goal was a cross more than a shot, should have been dealt with and we scored from it.
“We gave a much-improved performance at times but another game passes us by.’’
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