Almost a Third of the Season Gone

BILLY'S CONTRACT takes stock


Almost a third of the way through the season - didn't that just fly by - and what do we know? 

Firstly, both on and off the pitch Pools find themselves in a far better place than this time last year. An improved squad of players, more heart, entertaining football, various new sponsors and at the time of typing this, a decent points tally seeing Pools in eight spot - something that Craig Harrison could only dream of at the corresponding stage of last season. That said, a number of fans including myself feel that we should be doing better - a lot better.

 In 2016/17 season Pools should have been converting losses into draws and in the current campaign we should be converting draws into wins especially at home. Currently, of four draws at home, three have come from winning positions and all were when defending a precarious one goal lead. Even the the two wins against Chesterfield and Maidstone were not comfortable - both games seeing Pools having to defend deep and start running the clock down 15 minutes before the final whistle to hang onto a one goal advantage.

It has got to be said that our home form is not exactly setting the world alight or setting the pulses racing in terms of entertainment. Has Matthew Bates got it right or is he following his fellow pupils Colin Cooper, Craig Hignett and Craig Harrison from the Middlesbrough FC school of football whose mantra is "Why push on for three points when we can hang on for one?" Basically our philosophy appears to be to avoid losing ...even if it means not winning.

My other concern about Bates is that he, again like Harrison Cooper and Hignett, does not seem to have a plan B to draw upon. We are geared up in a 3-5-2 formation which by and large works well away from home but with limited success at the Vic. Aldershot took advantage of this in the second half and pummelled our left flank. Salford did much the same with their wing men exploiting our right side resulting in Conor Newton, filling in as a wing back, being subbed when perhaps changing the formation would have been more tactically astute.

As mentioned many times, our main tactic seems to be either from kick off or from Scott Loach to lump the ball out wide in the hope that Mark Kitchen will get a head to it for a knock down for Luke James to run on to. The problem with this tactic is that more often or not the ball goes over his head and out for a throw or that his marker wins the ball. On the odd occasion that Kitchen does win a header he is too deep and by the time James has the ball at his feet he is surrounded by a couple or three defenders.

"A major worry is what effect a possible long-term injury or suspension to Liam Noble would have on the team."
The other tactic seems to be for the defence/keeper to launch the ball up to Muir and James to chase and run on to but owing to their lack of height the percentage game shows that they are going to lose more than they are going to win. I have yet to see a goal scored from this strategy. Muir and James are too similar and having them both play out wide does not make sense as their goal tallies confirm. The way the front two are playing possibly allows goal scoring opportunities for our midfield players but not vice versa.

Against Halifax, excluding his penalty, I noted that Liam Noble had six shots at goal. To date our midfield has ten goals to its credit but this raises the question have our forwards become midfield players and our midfield players forwards?

Another area which I am unable to grasp is the substitutions that Bates makes. He replaces like for like players and not game changers. It sounds like I am having a pop at Matty Bates but I desperately want him to succeed. The fact that he leaves one man up front when Pools are defending a corner is a massive plus and takes pressure off the defence. I am hoping that he is not a one-trick pony and has other options up his sleeve.

Obviously Bates can only do so much with what resources are available to him. Muir and James, as good as they in the system we play, will not get enough goals to secure promotion. Everyone knows that we need an out-and-out centre forward for Muir and/or James to work off. Many criticised the club for loaning out Jake Cassidy but in truth I don't think he was the answer for that role.

A major worry is what effect a possible long-term injury or suspension to Liam Noble would have on the team. He is the nearest thing we have to a Mark Tinkler, who totally dominates the midfield and is always wanting the ball. His loss would leave us floundering unless of course Luke Williams overcomes his injury problems and takes over the baton.  Here's hoping that Luke Williams is not a direct replacement for Luke George in terms of appearances on the treatment table.


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