Full-time: Hartlepool United 1 Chesterfield 2
IT WAS around 5.25pm on Saturday when it was first confirmed. Five defeats in a row for Hartlepool United, the latest to Chesterfield at Victoria Park, and Simon Walton fronted up.
There was no talk of ‘taking the positives’ or the like, there’s no time for that or for sugar coating over the situation.
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“We realise it is not good enough in certain aspects and the sooner we realise that the better. Whether we like it or not we are in a relegation battle unfortunately.’’
And there you have it. Four games to go, and Pools are three uneasy points above second bottom.
Finish there come May 3 and it’s a desperate thought to comprehend.
Last time they were in such a state at the foot of the Football League, with four games to go they had just beaten Scarborough 3-0, inspired by Peter Beardsley on the pitch and by Chris Turner off it.
They were making the most of their situation and fighting it. They took five points from the last 12 and stayed up.
This time around, Turner looked on from the director’s box in his role as Chesterfield’s chief executive. His current side are set for promotion, his previous one has a fight on its hands.
And it’s one that a few players need to realise. The next four games will make or break their careers. Some are playing themselves out of the game already, others won’t be around if Pools drop out.
This time next week, Pools will be preparing to face Morecambe – the team currently directly below them in the table - at Victoria Park on Easter Monday. They will have played Burton 48 hours earlier. The double header will go some long way to shaping the outlook, mentality and nature of the last two games.
Walton added: “We said before Saturday we'd may be need one win just to calm everything down.
“We need to get it as soon a possible. We have two big games over the Easter weekend, we have got ourselves into this situation and only us can get us out of it.
“We have four massive games left. To be in this situation is quite scary to be honest.
“We say the right things and we go out there to do the right things but for some reason or another we don't seem to quite do it.
“At Portsmouth we gave the same spiel, keep it tight, blah blah, but we could have been two down after two minutes.
“On Saturday we conceded from a set piece which shouldn't happen and then let in a bad goal inside five minutes of the second half.
“After that we couldn't get going.’’
And that was the big worry – after going behind, Pools still had 41 minutes to press. They created next to nothing, a blocked shot from defender Scott Harrison aside. Unlike on a previous visit as a Macclefield player, when he was attacked by a supporter, goalkeeper Tommy Lee was untroubled.
Hartlepool’s Brad Walker challenges former Victoria Park favourite Ritchie Humphreys
He was beaten by Luke James on 25 minutes. Jack Barmby picked him out, and the striker got in behind left-back Nathan Smith – picked ahead of Pools’ stalwart Ritchie Humphreys – and curled his finish around Lee.
That the Spireites were able to leave Humphreys, who has played almost every game this season, and League Two player of the year Gary Roberts out of the side said a lot about their confidence going into the game.
They levelled from a corner, which Pools didn’t defend well enough and won it from a cross Pools didn’t defend well enough.
A raking ball from left to right by Marc Richards should have been dealt with by Darren Holden, but instead he gave Eoin Doyle enough room to control the ball, move into space, shoot and score.
It’s the third game in a row Pools have conceded from a similar position and, this was too similar to Cheltenham’s winner two weeks previous.
Walton, who helped keep Plymouth in the Football League by two points two years ago, admitted: “We shot ourselves in the foot and we've done it quite a bit recently, hence the defeats by the odd goal here and there.
“We are not getting battered, but we are conceding sloppy goals and it is costing us points.
“Hopefully people will sit up and realise the task at hand.
“I don't know whether it has been complacency or tiredness, but we need to realise we are not safe and it's not holiday time yet.
“We have shown that on our day we are a match for anyone and we can produce performances at the Vic.
“We have got it in us but for one reason or another we are not doing it at the minute.’’