GRAHAM Westley is the manager Hartlepool United cannot get the better of. The centre piece of Stevenage and his totem pole players, Westley holds the Indian sign over Pools.
Colin Cooper’s side didn’t quite deserve to win this one – as he admitted, they relied on goalkeeper Scott Flinders too much. But when it comes to facing the boss previously referred to as football’s David Brent, Pools always have a bad day at the office.
August 2011 and Scott Laird scored a late equaliser to deny Pools a win – that after the left back unceremoniously elbowed James Poole off the ball and got away with it. Weeks later his penalty dumped Pools out of the FA Cup.
Then Westley went to Preston, winning only 16 times in 62 games. His first victory came against Pools at Deepdale. He even engineered a 5-0 triumph over Neale Cooper’s side.
He went back to Stevenage in April last year and, in his third game in charge his first win was, naturally, against Pools.
So first day of the new season, Stevenage back in League Two after a desperate relegation season, and there’s only one outcome.
Pools hit the bar two minutes in when Jack Compton’s shot beat keeper Sam Beasant, but not the frame of the goal.
But, until they were chasing the game later on after going behind, they never created enough. At the other end, Flinders was the busier of the goalkeepers.
Westley’s teams have a regular up and at ‘em approach. The kick-off saw half a dozen giants charge to the Pools’ penalty area for a long punt up. The tone was set.
They run and chase and compete for everything, aiming to knock the opposition out of their strides.
Luke James caused one problem too many and went down off the ball clutching his ribs. Pools aren’t a soft team, but they didn’t give as good as they got.
After the goal, Stevenage had 30 minutes to see the game out and they did it. A few injuries and delays for treatments, switching dead ball takers the norm. Gamesmanship is part of the game.
But, as Colin Cooper said, there is more to them than crash and bash and they had the game’s best outfield player in Charlie Lee.
“We started nicely and had trouble when we took one or too many touches in midfield which allowed Stevenage to close us down,’’ he reflected.
“When we don’t move it about quickly they nick it back and counter attack and have some good players to go with their physical players.
“You can’t just call them a physical side. We were competitive, we just needed to be a bit better.
“We competed and I think we were more than competitive against a strong side. If there’s two real areas to work on them make sure our goalkeeper doesn’t make as many saves in a game and we have to pass it better and not get dragged into a scrap.
“Maybe we didn’t play in between enough, but they are an honest bunch and recognise were we can improve.’’
He added: “I feel as a former defender that if you help your goalkeeper out then he doesn’t have to make save after save. I felt there was too many instances from 20-25 yards we were the wrong side of play and chasing back to stop their attacks.
“For the goal, it’s gone around one of our players and Scott is just half going the other way. To have a goalkeeper like that behind us would give me, as a defender, an enormous sense of pride.’’
Pools didn’t create enough going forward, but were brighter for the later introductions of Ryan Brobbel and Jonathan Franks.
Both were direct and positive. Brobbel and Pools felt they should have had a penalty as the six minutes of added on time came to close. The loan signing from Middlesbrough touched the ball by left-back Bira Dembele, who took out the winger.
Brobbel went down, the assistant referee in front of it wasn’t entertaining it, neither was referee Mark Haywood. They were probably wrong.
“Was it a penalty? Ryan said he moved the ball outside and he was fouled,’’ said Cooper. “The referee’s assessor feels there was contact in the area.
“Graham (Westley) thought it was a penalty, but then he felt he should have had one too.
“We are relying on an official to make a decision and he hasn’t so we are disappointed.
“We stand up to the challenge for Tuesday at Port Vale and it will be a different one to Stevenage.’’