Pre-Season Games

RUNNING MONKEY looks for clues to the season

The first of the pre-season friendly games was Billingham Town, which last year was tempered by the threat of a court case, but still, as it should be, both teams survived.

As always Billingham gets a good turn out for this game with the Poolies thirsting for a game of football to watch. The one drawback this season was the lack of a team sheet and the fact there were quite a few new faces in the Pools side. On top of that we made a lot of changes throughout the game. It was bad enough trying to identify the players but also keep a tally on the goal scorers. I have no idea who scored any of the nine goals. OK nine sounds like a lot but you have to consider the opposition. One lad was outstanding in the Pools side, a coloured centre half who controlled the game shouting out to the younger players to get in line, move forward drop back. He was very comfortable on the ball. He must have been too good for us as I heard later that he had moved on.

One lad by the name of Connor Smith, I found out later, had scored three and looks to be a bit of a favourite with the manager. It has to be said despite non-league opposition there was some great passing football played by Pools.

The second game was away at Bradford, which I did not see, a one nil win for Pools and Duckworth was made captain for the day going back to his old stomping ground. It was reported that Tommy Miller was the best player on the park, well for the second half at least.

The next game at the Vic was against the Mackems. Their fans almost filled the Mill House stand and even a few in the empty Town End made for a decent crowd and a good atmosphere in the Vic. Ok, once again the big boys visit their lowly neighbours and run riot was the expectation. Some fans I spoke to earlier in the week were staying away for just that reason.
"it looks as if it is going to be a long, hard season unless we get some decent bodies in on loan." A strong Sunderland side made us work very hard defensively. For long periods we were on the back foot, but apart from one ball hitting the post and some very dangerous crosses from Adam Johnson, we held our ground. So much so that after sixty minutes the whole of the Sunderland team were taken off, job done. I like to think we played them off the park.

The Mackems' second string came on and we relaxed, the under-twenty-ones needed to step up to the mark and show their illustrious team mates how it should be done. They set about Pools with fast flowing great-to-watch football and they stuffed us three nil with Pools only managing one decent shot throughout the half.

Miller had a decent game, but Poolies have long memories and they wanted the Miller that used to score from anywhere. Marlon was taken off and replaced by Franks, but the old failings are still apparent. Ok, these games are more about fitness levels than results but we seem to be experimenting with square pegs in round holes through most of the pre-season games I have watched. It is not pretty and it looks as if it is going to be a long, hard season unless we get some decent bodies in on loan.

Whitby Town was our next venue, another annual trek that I enjoy. This game is usually a good test for us and invariably a few ex Poolies are in the side. Mark Robinson is now one of the senior players at Whitby and still playing at a good level. Darren Williams (player manager) and Bullock are two other ex-players, and Chris Lynch, a lad we had on loan from the Mackems, plus one or two more debut players made Whitby look a stronger side than last season.

I knew there would be trouble today as when we pulled up into their car park, our driver told the man on the gate “Frank Reid, Hartlepoo" "Ok, just park up there with the other player" was the response. If he thought Frank Reid was one of our players, I'd better not go there!

It was a beautiful summer's day and a shame the football did not match it. The afore-mentioned Mackem scored two good goals against us and Smith pulled one back for Pools but he looks a bit desperate to prove a point and may need anger management for when he misses a chance. Once again we look a disjointed side with no real threat from the effort we put in. I spoke to Tommy Miller after the game and asked if he was going to sign. "Hope so", he said, "but nothing definite yet." Could be Cooper is deciding between Miller or Greening, who may have other options.

Walker and Austin
One little bright moment on the day was when Brad Walker and Neil Austin were warming down on the touchline near were we stood. A little lad, Ciaran, in his Pools shirt came up and started to chat. He spoke to Brad Walker and he said, “Does Neil Austin still play for Pools?” "Yes, sometimes" was Brad's reply. Aussie, sat on the floor, asked him if Aussie was his favourite player. "Yes" says Ciaran. "Do you play football then?" asks Aussie." I play striker in the mould of Stevie Gerrard for Hartlepool and for Brazil and Liverpool" was the little lad's boast. Full of encouragement from the two Pools players, the little lad wandered back to find his dad. Meeting this little star made up for a disappointing defeat at Whitby Town.

The next opposition for us was a visit by the Smoggies to the Vic., another hard day's work for the once again disjointed Pools side. Greening was in for Miller and looked lively without any real threat. Poolies were asking in their own inimitable way what was the thinking behind Cooper's plan of five four one in a friendly. Marlon up front on his own, Luke out on the wing, Aussie once again centre back.

The return of Dimi in the Smoggie goal brought good cheers from the Town End as he made his way up at the start of the second half, but that was probably one of the easiest games he has ever had at the Vic. The Smoggies ran out two-nil winners and once again we looked to be a weak side.

Lets hope the experiments are just that.