DAVE JONES summed it up as succinctly as he could: “We probably for mugged by far more experience side than us.’’
The Hartlepool United manager suffered a first defeat on home turf in six games, as Wycombe Wanderers niggled, stole and narked their way to victory at The Northern Gas and Power Stadium.
Jones was also as critical as he could be in discussing the display of referee David Webb.
Loading article content
Defeat still leaves Pools nine points in front of the bottom two after both Orient and Newport lost. Another game down the line and the gap remains the same.
But this was a missed opportunity for Jones and Co.
After three wins from their previous four – including a first away win in 14 attempts – Pools didn’t play with as much verve and confidence as perhaps they should have.
The game did, in truth, pretty much pass them by.
Adebayo Akinfenwe scored the opener, Paris Cowan-Hall finished the game off on 90 minutes.
In between, Pools didn’t really create enough, that final ball letting them down.
They were also let down by referee Webb.
Nathan Thomas was felled in the area as he broke across the box, but the official was having none of it. Thomas was so infuriated he spent time haranguing the assistant referee nearest to the challenge.
The call wasn’t quite as bad, however, as Pools second call. As Brad Walker nodded a deep corner back towards goal, a giant arm was raised - that of Akinfenwe. Quite how the largest and biggest biceps in English football were missed by the officials is anyone’s guess.
Jones reflected: “We saw a different game to the officials. I’ve got to be careful what I say. Some of the things going on… I asked the fourth official to get in a Sunday league game tomorrow and see the game rather than sticking to rules and regulations.’’
“The handball? It comes quickly. I think he did for both teams, he’s the man to decide the referee, but I just felt we were mugged by a far more experienced side.’’
He had a fair point.
Webb and Co struggled with decisions for both sides, and the referee was open too easily to allow the visitors to dictate.
Their gamesmanship started seconds after Akinfenwe’s opener as he went down injured. To be fair he did hobble off in the second-half.
As an away team they are within their rights to set their stall out in that manner.
Pools inexperienced players don’t yet know how to play that way and the more mature in the squad don’t do it naturally.
The Chairboys’ Sam Saunders, posed about in midfield, niggling away and influencing decisions. Pools don’t have such an irascible character in their ranks and haven’t for some time. It’s one for Jones to address in the summer.
This was Pools’ ninth defeat to Wycombe in ten meetings. Last season’s win at Victoria Park was their first since Richie Barker headed Pools to promotion from League Two at Adams Park in 2007.
It’s ten years next month since Pools competed at the right end of the table. Jones, who has improved Pools in recent weeks, has sights set on putting that right next season.
First, however, is all about the last eight games of this campaign, with the trip to Orient on Easter Monday a pivotal encounter.
“A month and a half and we see the difference in the way we play and what we are trying to do, maybe six months too late,’’ said Jones. “Priorities are to be safe, then build and players come in and players will leave.’’ He added: “A mistake in the first half cost us, forget the second goal. We missed Liam and Rhys and we can’t miss players and have them out, we look at the bench and there’s only Batesy. Everyone else is only 18 and it’s a tough position to be in.
“We’ve not got time to say we learn from it, you lean all the time. We are a young side. The two centre-backs were fantastic and they are learning. Kenton got bullied a bit, but he’s learning. Dev didn’t do anything wrong.
“In key positions we need to be more clinical and need more quality.’’ One place where Pools have quality is at centre-half. Scott Harrison and Brad Walker have never played better.
Walker has been a revelation at the back, using the ball better from defence than he would in midfield. Harrison is more focused and switched on than ever.
Of his defenders, Jones said: “They dealt with the big lad up front, a mountain who does what he does, they used the ball well at the back, but we need quality. One but of quality the other night and we finished it.
“We got in more positions and better positions this time without getting the ball right.’’