THE best laid plans and all that....
A new (marquee) signing, different formation and a solid week’s work on the training ground behind them, Hartlepool United went to Fleetwood with a positive outlook.
Just 134 seconds in and it all changed; reshuffle and revamp needed.
Jordan Richards, on his second start after a hernia operation, took a throw on the right and the ball came back towards his area.
Jeff Hughes, the Cod Army winger, was about to take possession, it was probably 60-40 in his favour, but Richards had every right to go for the tackle.
But there’s going for the tackle and going for the tackle.
This wasn’t either.
High and late, Richards sent Hughes cartwheeling off the pitch. If it happened in front of the Mill House Stand to a Pools player there would be absolute hell on.
Quickly red carded, Pools were a man down.
Against one of the division’s in-form sides, the game was going to be a tough one without being down to ten men for so long.
Pools switched to 4-4-1, leaving Marlon Harewood up front on his own and he hardly got a kick, never mind a chance to impress. Service and supply was non existent.
It was 41 minutes before he had a decent pass played into his feet.
Hughes left the ground on crutches with his foot in a plastic cast.
Pools boss Colin Cooper did not conduct any media interviews after the game.
He had been in to see referee James Adcock to express his frustration at the red card. When he emerged, he watched a rerun of the incident on DVD and instantly went back to see the referee before heading home.
He later did a piece with the club’s official website with his thoughts on the incident relayed.
“I was blocked off by the fourth official for the original incident and I felt as though the referee reacted to the crowd and the players around him rather than the incident itself,’’ he said.
“Having seen one view of it, it didn’t change my mind as I didn’t feel as though Jordan was off his feet or that it was a reckless challenge.
“I told the referee that I didn’t agree with that decision and another couple in the game.
“They obviously mark themselves on the key match incidents and I disagreed with at least two of them.
“But having seen the incident closer, which by the way the referee doesn’t get that close, I have to say that it was a reckless challenge and not only does Jordan arrive after Jeff Hughes has played the ball, he also sends Jeff up into a cartwheel.
“So I felt like I had to go back into the referee’s room and tell him that I had seen it again a lot closer and in a lot more detail and he had probably got it right.
“That doesn’t mean that I feel like he made the right decision in the second minute of the game.
“Whether or not it was harsh, we probably feel like the referee can take into account that it was only the second minute of the game.
But that is from our point of view and I’m sure Fleetwood will feel differently about that.’’ Part of Pools’ beef stemmed back to September. Two minutes into the win at Mansfield and Jack Compton was cynically wiped out by Anthony Howell. Referee Graham Horwood bottled it and only showed a yellow card.
Consistency, or lack of it, among officials remains, much to Cooper’s chagrin.
Pools new signing Marlon Harewood finds his route blocked by the Fleetwood defence
Cooper’s opposite number Graham Alexander said: “The challenge itself was reckless.
Jeff has left the ground on crutches and with a medical boot on his foot. It’s reckless, but it’s not for me to say if it’s a red or yellow card. The only thing that might have saved him was that it was so early in the game.
“You have to take the challenge on it’s merits and it was reckless.’’ Pools took off Luke James and put Sam Collins on in his place to secure a solid and regular back four.
Defensively, the plan worked as the home side weren’t able to break Pools down in the opening half.
They were intent on playing everything through Jon Parkin, the big man up front and, with Collins shackling him, it was fairly solid for Pools.
A poor man’s Steve Howard was the chant from the away terrace.
But the difference was that Parkin kept going, never showed his frustration and actually scored.
After he had a low shot well saved by Scott Flinders, the ball fell to him on the right side of the penalty area and he swept a first-time shot around Flinders into the far corner.
A couple of minutes later and it was two. Jack Baldwin was robbed of the ball on the halfway line by Mikael Mandron, the Sunderland striker who recently moved on loan to Fleetwood.
Pools claimed Baldwin was fouled, but the defender should have moved the ball on quickly and not been in a position to get caught.
Mandron fed Alex Marron and he poked past Flinders.
Pools, as the statistics prove this season, don’t come back after falling behind.