TWELVE months ago Hartlepool United struggled to find their feet in League Two.
Following relegation and under a new manager, Pools and Colin Cooper took seven games to get a first win. There were grumblings, but little angst or real discontent.
This time around, it’s a different outlook with no mitigating circumstances. Cooper and his players, who suffered a third successive defeat this new campaign on Saturday, don’t have any more leeway.
After losing to meekly to Bury at Victoria Park they won’t be cut much more slack; there’s been too much negativity over recent years for things to be accepted in their current malaise.
The importance in setting the tone for the coming weeks in tomorrow’s home game with Dagenham cannot be underestimated.
The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy provided some solace last season, their first win coming in that competition against Bradford. Things clicked into place that night, proof that Cooper’s ideals and principles were coming to fruition.
This season, there isn’t even the joys of the JPT to look forward to, Pools given a bye in the first round.
They need to find a positive result and performance from somewhere, because on the three showings this season they are a long way away from where they should be.
In their third defeat last time out, at least they had 14 attempts on goal in losing to Southend: “As someone new into this job, I’ll have to learn of frustration,’’ admitted Cooper at the time. The feeling still remains –“There’s frustration to a certain degree,’’ he said on Saturday.
He added: “Last year was all new to us, we were trying to do the right things in our minds, playing the right way and it didn’t quite click. I suppose there is a similarity, but all you can do is look back for the thing that turned in our favour.
“We have to find a formula that works and the personnel in that system. And knowing, being brutally honest with the players, that I’m after the kind of quality we don’t have at the moment.
“We are a very young and thin squad and it’s my job to find players to add to it. They are a honest, young and a group with a lot of endeavour, but at the moment it isn’t quite clicking or good enough.
“I will try to improve it, hoping we can get the people in for that bit extra to get off and running. Then people feel better about themselves and the three defeats we have had make you feel a bit sorry for yourself, but instead, let’s kick start the season on Tuesday.’’ Middlesbrough won’t release Christian Burgess to Pools until their own squad is complete. Cooper won’t get Luke Williams this time, but needs a player to give them some spark going forward. Luke James toils away, but he needs support.
Marlon Harewood wasted their best chance, firing wayward after Stuart Parnaby’s shot was saved. That chance, on 37 minutes, was the first time Pools had moved the ball around with any purpose and intent on the front foot.
Harewood is too static in the area, he’s flat footed and needs to respond quicker as things happen in and around him. When chances are so scarce, they can’t be hooked into the crowd.
He did have the ball in the net in the second-half, but offside as he touched in Jon Franks’ header.
Pools went one-down to a swift counter-attack. Bury’s three-man defensive line gave them an extra man in midfield and Kelvin Etuhu made the most of the advantage.
Darren Holden overlapped on the left, but picked out defender Nathan Cameron rather than Harewood or James. Moving the ball upfield quickly, Etuhu fed Ryan Lowe, who crossed for Daniel Nardiello to head in.
After conceding so easily from crosses at Port Vale last week, this was another defensive disappointment.
The second came from another Pools attack down the left. As it was cleared, Matthew Bates faced his goalkeeper and tried to knock the ball back to Scott Flinders.
Instead, he never got a touch to the ball, gifting Danny Rose a run on goal. He was held up by Flinders briefly, and Bates got back to defend, but Rose picked his spot. Game over.
Cooper added: “We are trying hard. I said to the players that no-one can question the endeavour, honesty and workrate, but what I will question is do we have enough quality? Arresting whatever it may be means we get the season away quicker.
“This time last year it was a point at Torquay when we probably got battered for 20 minutes and hung in there. This time we probably didn’t hang in there enough.
“So if we don’t concede the first goal we are in the game, we still are at one-nil. The second goal knocks it out of us.’’