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Sweeney lifts an otherwise poor Pools show
8:00am Monday 23rd April 2012 in Hartlepool United News
Tranmere Rovers 1 Hartlepool United 1
HAD it not been for a sole, second-half minute, this one would have been filed under the same "end of season" dross which has typified recent weeks.
Another battered playing surface, another disjointed Pools performance void of creation and, yet again, little sense of meaning for a pair of sides seeing out a campaign which will end in the comfort of mid-table.
But, for 69 minutes at least, this did not make for comfortable viewing.
If Neale Cooper is assembling a dossier on the offensive shortcomings which surely need addressing come the summer, then the first hour at Prenton Park was littered with evidence.
In the manager's own words, "we couldn't string two passes together".
But then came that incident-jammed 60 seconds to mask all that had gone before.
Tony Sweeney, to this point guilty of offering little by way of attacking note, served a reminder of his value with the equaliser.
In keeping with the contest its origin was somewhat scruffy, the midfielder playing an inadvertent one-two with a Rovers defender.
He gratefully accepted the wall-pass, skipped by another forlorn white shirt and steadied himself before directing low under Owain Fon Williams in the home goal.
It was just Pools' fourth goal in 15 hours of League One football - another stat Cooper can arm himself with when presenting his case for summer recruitment.
But they should have had another within seconds of the restart.
Ryan Noble pounced upon a defensive lapse and headed through on goal.
Fon Williams, the Welsh keeper, darted from his line in a bid to block but merely succeeded in upending the Sunderland loan striker.
Confusion, however, descended when referee Mick Russell dismissed the dreadlocked Ian Goodison, the defender who had given chase to Noble.
Fon Williams, clearly to all except Russell the offender, was eventually shown red, but only after advice from the assistant referee.
And what of the location of the infringement?
Noble, convinced it was inside the area and lurking around the penalty spot in anticipation, saw his angst amplified when Russell indicated for a free-kick.
And Rovers only survived their rightful punishment by a lick of paint when Neil Austin cracked the resulting deadball against the post.
Noble had a chance to bury his torment when Darren Holden, the teenager on as a sub for his first outing in more than a year, landed an inviting centre on his team-mate's brow but the header, from just six yards, looped over the crossbar.
But Cooper was relieved that, after weeks of repetition, he at last had some match action to pour over.
"It all came to life in the second half didn't it," he said.
"It wasn't good enough in the first half and I told them that at half-time, we've got to keep the ball better.
"That showed for our goal, we managed to string a few passes together then Sweens gets into the area and does ever so well to score.
"So we're back in the game at that point and should have been in front a minute later.
"Ryan's done brilliantly to get clear and I would have much preferred to see him get past the keeper and score, because he would have done.
"Then he sends Goodison off and I said 'what's he coming off for?'.
"It wouldn't have been fair if he'd been sent off - although I wouldn't have complained.
"After that we hit the post with Aussie and we had a couple of chances and probably should have won.
"So to come here, when they've won four in a row at home, and get a point is pleasing."
And Cooper conceded a degree of sympathy for Noble, who is now without a goal in five outings.
"He's desperate to score," said the Pools first-team coach.
"It's not going for him at the moment and I felt for him.
"He had the header over the bar and got a few knocks.
"I thought he linked it better second half when Andy (Monkhouse) went through the middle with him.
"He then gets pulled down by the keeper and he was just going to slide it in the net.
"So it's frustrating for him but he's a good boy and he'll keep going I'm sure."