Five games without defeat, five games without a win. Win on Saturday, lose on Tuesday: inconsistency rules at Hartlepool United.

Pools lost at Stockport County. In the first-half they were second-best by some distance as a team without a win in five ran all over Pools.

When County were sharp, Pools were flat. Where they were quick, Pools were slow. When they were organised, Pools were well…. the opposite.

“You can’t start like that and expect to win it,’’ said boss Craig Hignett.

“We were so slow out of the blocks and saying that second half was as good as it could have been. We got in good areas, but paid the price for not getting in the right areas and not hitting the target.

“We scored late and still have had chances, but disappointed not to take the chances.

“We knew they would be a danger from set-pieces and they score from a set-piece on four minutes. They could have got more and to get in at two-down words were said and we attacked and we were as good as we have been all season.

“In one way I’m pleased – second half showing we didn’t lie down and had a go.

He added: “I thought we would get something out of it if we scored early.

“Gime had opened them up late on, we have had chances and little things in front of goal we’ve not been clinical enough.

“We have played well at times in games, we’ve not made people work to beat us and we need to improve at that.’’

It was the worst possible start for Pools. A short corner found its way across the penalty area, with the defensive unit static, and Ash Palmer was free to turn and crack a low shot past a flatfooted Ben Killip.

A minute later and Pools needed their keeper to make a save to stop his side going two-down.

County broke away quickly and were sharp on the front foot. Wing-back Sam Minihan and Tom Walker combined, with the latter’s shot being pushed onto the post by Killip.

Pools were set up in a 3-4-3 formation, an adventurous one on the front foot, but one which left them wide open and exposed at the back.

Ryan Donaldson broke into the area, and got in behind the organised home defenders. He cut onto his right foot and tried to curl the ball high and over keeper Ben Hinchliffe, but couldn’t get it under the bar.

And Pools were soon two goals down.

Tom Walker finished well, following an impressive move down the right side which left Pools woefully exposed once again.

Walker only signed on loan the day before from Salford City, alongside Devante Rodney. The ex-Pools striker wasn’t named in the squad. He could have had a field day against the back three in operation at Edgeley Park, such was their ineptitude.

County hit the post and, on half-time, hit the bar. Nicky Featherstone was weak on the ball and beaten, Adam Thomas got away and his effort crashed off the frame of the goal.

Pools were fortunate not to be five-down at the break. That was their only saving grace.

Last time Pools were at Edgeley Park they were two-down after 45 minutes and drew 2-2.

To try and get a way back, Hignett dumped the 3-4-3 line-up. On came Josh Hawkes in a change to 4-3-3.

They started the second-half sharper in possession and had more territorial advantage than in the previous half.

But, like previous, the home side’s eight-man back line was formed every time Pools attacked.

The back five became six, with two midfielders tucked in deep for insurance. It was a firm blue wall.

Peter Kioso was getting in advanced positions on the right, often his ball was cut out by the first man. When he cut the ball back it was directed to the referee more than a team-mate and County attacked.

They broke down the left, Joe Leesley’s ball went across goal and Nyal Bell was a certain scorer at the far post. Unmarked he bounced his shot horribly wide.

Pools got one back with four to go. Gavan Holohan’s shot was spilled by keeper Hinchliffe and Nicke Kabamba was onto the loose ball in an instant to crash home.

Toure cut inside and found space, his goalbound shot majestically tipped over the bar by the keeper.

Too little, too late.


Goals: Palmer (4, 1-0); T Walker (21, 2-0); Kabamaba (87, 2-1)

Bookings: Turnbull (47, foul); Mafuta (61, dissent); Leesley (61, dissent); Hawkes (64, foul)

Referee: Simon Mather (Manchester) 7

Attendance: 3465

STOCKPORT COUNTY (5-3-2): Hinchliffe 6; Minihan 7, Palmer 7, Arthur 7, Keane 7, Leesley 8; S Walker 7, T Walker 8 (Obsorne 82), Turnbull 7; Bell 5 (Mulhern 73), Thomas 6 (Cowan 63). Subs (not used): Ormson, Hammill.

HARTLEPOOL UNITED (3-4-3): Killip 6; Kerr 4, Raynes 5, Richardson 4 (Hawkes 46, 6); Kioso 7 (Holohan 77), Featherstone 4, Mafuta 5, Kitching 6; Donaldson 4, James 4 (Kabamba 62, 5), Toure 7. Subs (not used): Cunningham, Bale.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Tom Walker, too lively for Pools first-half especially.