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Friday, December 17, 2010

Hartlepool Preview

Whether or not you consider a 0-0 draw a defeat there's a second consecutive 'L' in our results column and it was also our first two non-scoring games in a row since the loss at Colchester and the draw at Leeds in October last year. And the last time we had two defeats in a row last November the sequence was lengthened by another defeat against Southampton in last years JPT. Parky can't allow that to happen this time, of course, because not only is there a vital three points on offer at Victoria Park but there's the potential takeover in the air and Parky needs to establish firmly that he is the man needed to get us promotion.
Before Brentford there was the terrible display against Walsall which left Parky sounding rather like Capello during the World Cup. Of course, its not the first time Walsall have won at the Valley, they've won 2 of the last four there including cup games, and 3 of the last 6 counting Sainburys. Put the blame on Manager of the Monthitis which strikes again although there were a few banana skins mentioned before the game. And, of course, we should be aware of top (well, nearly) v bottom games and there was never a better one than March 2000 when, after 12 successive wins, along came hard-up Swindon who beat us 0-1 thanks to a Dean Kiely own goal after 5 minutes, our first League defeat of the century.
And maybe the situation was like that at Dean Court last Saturday where Bournemouth produced a 140 page progamme to celebrate 100 years at the ground. Hartlepool took note of the possible distractions and made sure that it was going to be their day instead with a 1-0 victory.
And its worth noting that the Walsall game highlighted one of major failings, apart from being able to pass to ball to each other, that, forgetting our cup games, we are still one of a decreasing number of teams, 8 now in Tier Three, that have failed to win a League game after falling behind. Its happened seven times now and we have lost 5 of them including Walsall and we are the only promotion chasing team with this dismal record.

There's not much history between the Addicks and the Pools with a total of only three games played and due to our current lapse in fortunes and one of Hartlepools rare visits to Tier Three last year was the only season we have spent together. We won the game at Victoria Park 2-0 in August 2009 thanks to goals by Burton and Bailey in the first 30 minutes and we also won the return game at the Valley in January by 2-1. The only other game against them was a League Cup tie at the Valley in 2005 which we also won 3-1. So 3 games and 3 wins for the Addicks but will this perfect score continue on Saturday?

Hartlepool became founder members of the Third Division North in 1921 and they share with Rochdale the unwanted record of enjoying 89 years of League football without ever reaching the headly heights of Tier Two. But one thing they share with the Addicks is that our baptism in League football began in the 1921/22 season with both of us being in the regional Third Division, the Addicks in the South and the Pools in the North. But whereas we only stayed eight years before being promoted into the Second Division in 1929, the Pools had to wait 46 years to get that first promotion by finishing third in 1967-68. Sadly Tier Three football only lasted only one season and they were relegated back to Division 4 where they had been since the 4th Division was created in 1958.
However, this is the 4th straight season in Tier Three which is a bit of a record for the Pools although they only survived last season by the skin of their teeth finishing just above Gilllingham on goal difference with a last day goalless draw at Brentford while the Gills were losing 0-3 at Wycombe.

Down in 12th place but they managed to struggle into the top half of the table for only the second time this season with a surprising 1-0 away win last weekend at the number one home team in Tier three, Bournemouth who were on a 5 game unbeaten run. As for their home form and its only the 19th best with only 3 wins and 2 draws from 8 games with a couple of serious hammerings from Wednesday 0-5 and Carlisle 0-4. BUT two of those wins have been against Brighton 3-1 a month ago ( Poyet's first defeat in 13) and the Posh 2-0 before that and they have improved with only one defeat in their last 5 home games.

The Opposition
The 60 year old Mike Wadsworth is currently caretaker manager of the Pools and a more varied managerial life than his can't be imagined. After working for the FA including a coaching role in the 1990 World Cup and FA's Excellence Programme he's moved into management and has managed or been assistant manager at a total of 15 teams including both the Congo and St. Kitts and Nevis national teams and at club level, Oldham, Carlisle, Colchester, Huddersfield, Southampton and Newcastle and many more. So a man with a wealth of experience. He joined the Pools in June as First team coach and has been caretaker manager since Chris Turner left in August.

Midfielder number 15 Anthony Sweeney is doing a Johnnie Jackson and getting the goals. He's got 4 League and 4 cup goals for a total of 8.

Whats Their Secret?
The Pools are a first half team and have only been behind at the interval on two occasions this year. Only the ultra conservative Oldham with 11 first half draws can better that record. The Addicks and Brighton have been on the losing side three times at the 45 minutes.
And they are another team apart from the Addicks whose favorite score is 1-0 - they've had 3 of them. But although only 3 teams have scored less than their 21 goals, they do have a better defence that the Addicks having conceded one less goal than the Addicks.

What Are They Saying?
Manager Wadsworth after last weeks win at Dean Court said: "We were looking forward to this for a while and we've been talking to the players about building momentum and spoiling their party and we managed to do that. It was a very good result for us. We are putting a run together away from home, that's three good displays away from home now. We have a good group of players here and they have some belief now."

The Team
After a 0-0 90 minute scoreline against the best in-form team in Tier 3 Brentford ( 6 wins in their last 8 League games) with a weakened team, perhaps Parky was secretly pleased with the result and losing the potiential headache of extra injury-provoking cup games.
With Jenkinson, Reid, McCormack and Abbott getting rare starts there may be a call to start with the first two against the Pools but I fancy that Parky will be reluctant to introduce Jenkinson into such a crucial game and with top scoring Sweeney playing out left. Francis no doubt took note of the treat from the 18 year old and will want to be on top of his game this weekend.
Christian Dailly at last returned on Tuesday after his ban and got a full 90 minutes in and will be keen to captain the side to another away win in similar fashion to his last away game at Peterborough where we won 5-1.
The only other possible change may somehow involve the return of Reid in place of the recently disappointing Wagstaff although its hard to see how Parky can fit our top scorer Jackson and Reid into the same team without pushing JJ back to full-back where his chances of a goal will be seriously reduced.

Elliot; Francis, Dailly, Doherty, Fry; Wagstaff, Semedo, Racon, Jackson; Anyinsah, Benson

Despite the Pools recent home wins over Brighton and Peterborough, we do have a 100% perfect history against them, a desperate need to get back on track after slipping to fourth and Parky's desire to prove himself to our new owners all of which point to a 2-0 win for the Addicks. But then I won't put any money on it.
And then there's the weather. Friday night in Hartlepool is forecast to be minus 6 with temperatures on the Saturday not rising above -2 but with clear blue skies. Pack them gloves Parky.

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