Quarterly Review

BILLY'S CONTRACT does what it says on the tin

With just over a quarter gone in our first season of non league football, what do I think of Pools performances so far? Perhaps not 'Rubbish' as Eric Morecambe would say but I for one am certainly underwhelmed with what I have seen to date.

At the time of writing Pools playing record is five wins four draws and five defeats, yes five defeats. Arsene Wenger once said that to lose five times in a season would not win anyone a title (and he should know). Fortunately as this is the National league and not the Premiership this theory may not apply as current table toppers Macclesfield and fifth place Sutton United have lost four games apiece and third placed Woking, not unlike Pools have five defeats on the board. Last season Lincoln finished as champions with 7 losses and second placed Tranmere with 9. Dagenham, who reached the playoffs by finishing fourth, had 14 defeats to their credit. Such is the inconsistency of the National League so based on this Pools might see sight of the play offs.

The season so far has only seen Pools score more than one goal on two occasions. The loss of Amond and Cassidy has not really been addressed by bringing in untried, inexperienced replacements. I am acutely aware that Pools have no divine right to be crowned as League Champions at the first attempt with a record points haul, however it would be good if they started to make some sort of effort to get out of first gear and start motoring.

Even the matches that we have won we have made hard work of and not looked 100% comfortable and that includes the five match unbeaten purple patch that we had. To be blunt if it was not for the heroics of Scott Loach in most of these games our points tally would probably still be in single figures. Our first win against Guiseley was a continuation of the awful performance against Fylde. Again it was Scott Loach who saved the day with two breathtaking saves which kept us in the game against a team of part timers who are are now in the bottom three of the National League.

We did well to beat an excellent Dagenham side who were quick and pacy and at time had us chasing shadows. Orient had six first teamers missing from their side and a young lad thrown in at centre half for his debut and in truth, despite the win we hardly troubled them. If anything for the last twenty minutes they gave Pools an uncomfortable time.

A lot has been made about Craig Harrison's pre-season signings but most of them, Cassidy Watson and Loach aside, have failed to impress or have been injury prone or both.

Prior to the Barrow game Eddie Kyle, who talks bucket loads of sense on Radio Team Valley, questioned why Pools had so many injured players in the treatment room compared to other clubs, at this early stage of the season. Had we signed injury prone players? Are they not warming up/down correctly? Is it something in training that is causing the problem? Kyle suggested that Pools should get someone in from one of the local universities to find the source of the problem. I got the feeling that he was suggesting some of the players might be feigning injury.

As I have said previously, opponents should be so intimidated at the prospect of playing at the Vic that they feel that they are already a goal down before they have even got off the team bus due to their prior knowledge of Pools' pace and firepower. But in reality, instead of going at our opponents like they have not seen raw meat for a month, we constantly pass the ball from side to side and backwards with little or no pressure being applied to supply the lone striker up front. As such our opponents grow in confidence and start taking the game to Pools. Pools in turn respond to this by defending deeper and rely on, much like in the Hignett era, the ball being hoofed up front for a forward to run on to. More often or not the forward is still back in defence as our opponents quickly set up yet another attack on the back of this failed tactic.

Pools always have eleven players in the penalty box when defending corners. Case in point. Against semi-professional Eastleigh (who had seven first teamers out when they played Pools) defending one particular corner with all eleven players back we had no outlet up front to collect any possible clearance which enabled Eastleigh to bang the ball back, resulting in their having three attempts at goal, one of which nearly went in. The only time that I noticed that we had a man up front from defending a corner against Eastleigh was in the 90th minute and by then it was too late as we were already chasing the game. I can't understand why Harrison can't leave a man up front for most of the match particularly at home. Barrow did and the result was that two Pools defenders were tied up in marking him.
"if it was not for the heroics of Scott Loach ...our points tally would probably still be in single figures."

The failed midfield that got us relegated is still in situ. I could not believe Craig Harrison's comments in the Mail recently when he stated that he would like to build his side around Nicky Featherstone. Featherstone is a tidy non-productive player whose style of play might be suited to England or Barcelona when they are passing the ball around for no apparent logical reason but boring the pants off everyone in the process.

Woods' and Hawkins' best football comes when they do not have the ball, closing people down is their game. Last season our midfield managed just six goals. Hawkins hasn't scored for the best part of two seasons. It would be nice to see them getting into the opposition's box or even having a shot at goal. Munns, who came on for the last fifteen minutes in midfield against Eastleigh, had one shot and scored a goal which must have left Woods, Hawkins and Featherstone bemused.

Got to give him his due, Woods played really well against Barrow and got into the box on several occasions as well, having four shots at goal and scoring to boot ...or rather to head. Excluding Munns', that was the first goal that our central midfield have scored in 23 games, Woods being the last scorer against Cambridge last season.

With a fully-fit squad I would look at a midfield with Deverdics, Munns and Luke George with the possible inclusion of Liam Donnelly as a further option. I would also like to believe that Conor Newton has more to offer than what we have seen in his earlier outings.

Up until the arrival of Keith Watson our defence was a joke, Scott Harrison and Louis Laing being the main culprits. Blair Adams looks good going forward but at times his defending is questionable. If Liam Donnelly can rediscover the form he was in when he first signed for Pools he could fill in for Watson.

Up front is a different ball game altogether since we lost Jake Cassidy through injury and Padraig Amond to pastures new. We are lacking experience on a massive scale. Someone up front like Billy Paynter would be have been ideal in this division. Like many I was surprised that it took so long to find a replacement for Padraig Amond and even then it came in the form of James Thorne, who has less experience than the raw Rodney and the novice Simpson, both of whom are still learning their trade. Even when we did have a centre forward in Amond, Craig Harrison did not know how to play him, leaving him and then Cassidy to play as the lone striker both home and away.

I am guessing that Pools spend time in training practising moves from throw-ins but that does not seem to be the case on match days. We never take a quick throw and generally the players do not seem to know what to do or make little movement once again slowing the pace of the game down to suit their opponents whilst the thrower looks desperately to find someone who actually wants to receive the ball. In fairness to Harrison this trait has gone on for five or six seasons.

There is a lot of time wasting in this league. Up until recently I did not see any ball boys in place at the Vic. Of late we have seen the introduction of some ball girls under the age of ten years old. The other week two of them were sat together in front of the Cyril Knowles stand. When the ball came near them did they retreive it and throw it back? No. They sat on their backsides chatting away to each other oblivious of everything. Needless to say one of the opposing players sauntered up to collect it thus winding the clock down in the process. We need ball boys who are quick to respond to keep the game flowing. If they cannot get kids to do this task maybe they should get some of the youngsters from the youth teams trained up and involved.

It may sound as if I am being negative but hey, I am a glass half full, nay even quarter full type person but if this current side was in the Football League I think we would be occupying one of the bottom two spots.

Harrison needs to start getting his 'show on the road' and make a statement. We all know about Pools' finanicial problems but if some of the cash from the sale of Amond/Walker etc. were made available,  Pools should invest in a couple of experienced players that would make the difference, change no points to one point and one point into three points and who could make a fist out of Pools getting out of this league, otherwise, not unlike Wrexham, we may end up becoming one of the more established sides in the National League.