Final Score: Colchester United 3 Hartlepool United 1
ON October 1 last year, Hartlepool United suffered their first League One defeat of the season, going down 1-0 to Sheffield Wednesday.
Twelve months on and with Sheffield United visiting Victoria Park tomorrow, they have only one win to their name this campaign following Saturday’s defeat at Colchester.
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It’s hard to see where the next victory is coming from and after occupying a top six spot a year ago they are second bottom. On current form can they get out of it?
That defeat by the Owls triggered a run they have yet to get out of. They have won ten games since and lost 22. At the start of this downward spiral they had 19 points from ten games. They currently have six from eight.
Neale Cooper replaced Mick Wadsworth at the turn of the year, but the slide continues.
They are as mentally weak, low on confidence and defensively shoddy as they have been in a long time.
The manager is limited in his options. How he would love to be able to get loan signings of the calibre of Craig Eastmond. Colchester’s loanee from Arsenal ran the show for the most of it.
The Us’ new boss Joe Dunne, who replaced John Ward in midweek, didn’t just get an instant reaction in spirit and battle.
It looked as if his team had been playing to his methods for months such was the way they implemented his game plan: closing down quickly, full-backs pushing on as extra wide men, with neat and short passing through midfield.
It’s questionable whether Pools had a game plan. Such is their lack of confidence and frailty of their defence, schemes are quickly rendered useless.
Once again, as soon as they conceded a goal a second followed.
And all three should have been avoided.
When Shrewsbury scored their second goal the previous week it came from a pass through Pools’ centre-halves.
Again on Saturday, Peter Hartley and Sam Collins were too square and too far apart and, from Sanchez Watt’s threaded pass, Gavin Massey scored from a ball slipped in between the pair.
Four minutes on, Hartley was under the ball as it dropped and in a position to deal with the situation. Inexplicably he turned to head back to Flinders from around 30 yards, and needed a firm and solid connection.
But his touch just cushioned the ball down for Jabo Ibehre to latch on to.
The third came when Michael Rose swung over a low ball from the left into the area.
It was played, in cricketing terms, into the corridor of uncertainty.
But there’s so much uncertainty among the Pools defence right now every ball could fit that description. “I thought they were going to score from every attack,’’ said Cooper.
As Hartley, Collins and Evan Horwood watched it bounce across them, Ibehre took a touch to knock in his second.
“We crucified ourselves at the back – it’s killing us and it kills the other players,’’ said Cooper, who held back his fury after his explosions following embarrassments at Crewe, Notts County and Preston already this season.
“We were 1-0 up with a great goal and were frustrating them with the way we were playing. Their first goal went straight through the middle.
“The second was another individual error. I’m getting fed up with them – it was a shocker, what was Peter thinking of?
“There was no danger but then he heads it back to the keeper, thank you very much.
“We had a chance to get on top of them and frustrate the crowd, but not us – there you go, have a goal.
“They are just not doing it and they have been told.
“I felt sorry for Jack Baldwin and Scott Flinders. He was man-of-the-match because it could have been more.
“I was thinking ‘what am I watching here?’.
“If they’re getting goals tactically then it’s one thing, but it wasn’t.’’ Yet Pools did go ahead on Saturday. Craig Lynch intercepted possession, got into the area and confidently curled his shot home for his first professional goal.
It gave Pools something to hold on to and they were close to a second. Antony Sweeney’s header from a Jon Franks corner was nodded off the line by Rose and Steve Howard’s effort from distance dropped on the top of the net with keeper Mark Cousins beaten.
In recent seasons, Pools became adept at holding on to a single goal lead in away games, but that’s no longer the case.