EXPERIMENTAL Town go into the second stage of their pre-season schedule still needing to find the right balance and cutting edge.
It’s understandable with so many new faces being added to the mix that there should be some teething problems, especially when several players were having their first match action in Hartlepool because of previous injuries.
Having played a 3-5-2 formation to start in the 2-1 defeat by Hamilton, manager Stan Ternent opted for 4-4-2 against the hosts yesterday with what was more of a second-string line-up, and Town were beaten 1-0 by Danny Wilson’s League I side – Joel Porter bursting through to score on 62 minutes.
It was a sickening blow for teenage goalkeeper Alex Smithies, who impressed throughout with his constant chatter to organise the defence, his confident handling and a couple of terrific saves in front of a small contingent of travelling Galpharm fans.
The best of those came on 40 minutes to keep the scores level as Ritchie Humphreys’ cross from the left caused problems and the ball fell to tricky Jonny Rowell in space about 10 yards out.
The skilful midfielder seemed destined to score, but his sharp, low shot was brilliantly held one-handed by Smithies diving smartly to his right.
While Smithies was strong in the face of other efforts from Rowell, Porter and Andy Monkhouse, he could do nothing about the goal as Town’s back line were caught flat.
Despite conceding possession too easily at times, Town still had enough chances to have won the game.
The best of the first half fell to Luke Beckett after 33 minutes. It came from a neat build-up involving Michael Collins, Tom Clarke and trialist midfielder Tony Grant – having his first run-out for the club – and when Beckett slipped marker Michael Nelson, you would have backed him to score.
But his curling effort went just wide and that summed up Town’s afternoon.
Substitute Phil Jevons had another cracking chance in the opening seconds of the second half, following a brave header by Malvin Kamara, but he elected to chip from 10 yards on the angle and floated the shot wide.
Robbie Williams drilled a 30-yarder just over the bar and curled a late free-kick just wide, Jevons was unlucky not to earn a penalty when being held back by Jamie McCunnie and Flynn was desperately unfortunate not to score his first Town goal from their best move of the match.
That came on 75 minutes when Beckett and Jevons unlocked the Hartlepool defence with a neat one-two and the latter’s cross was met with a full-blooded header from Flynn which was kept out by the trailing left boot of keeper Arran Lee-Barrett.
It was as near as Town got to a goal – they’ve scored two in three matches against full-pro opposition so far – and the manager is already working to ensure that record quickly improves.
Having played 28 minutes the previous day, Flynn was given the second 45 against Hartlepool, while Goodwin added 23 minutes to his full game against Hamilton on Saturday. Once again, he looked strong in the tackle and wasn’t frightened to direct the midfield operation.
Flynn, too, is no shrinking violet and looks to have the sort of character Ternent demands, so it will be very interesting to note the starting line-up against Sheffield United when there’s only a week to the big kick-off.
Town – Smithies, T Clarke, Williams, Grant (Goodwin 67), Mirfin, Killock, Parker (Jevons HT), Collins, Beckett, Kamara, Codman (Flynn HT). Subs not used: Broadbent, Glennon, N Clarke, Holdsworth.