Skip to main content Skip to site footer
League One

Andy Ritchie's Blog 28

27 February 2013

Is the great escape on for Hartlepool United? John Hughes and his players are at least beginning to pose the question.

A few weeks back the Monkey Hangers were a lost cause. Cut adrift at the bottom of the npower League 1 table, there was an assumption that this was a club which was hurtling towards the fourth tier. Hardly anyone gave them a prayer of survival.

Now, with five wins and two draws from their last seven outings Hartlepool are beginning to look like a side that's capable of avoiding the drop in miraculous fashion. It's been a stunning turnaround in form.

It's all down to confidence, self-belief and more importantly, that season-changing moment.

For the Pools I suspect their entirely unexpected 3-2 win at Bramall Lane against Sheffield United in December sparked them into life. Then, if you look at recent results it would seem their comprehensive 3-1 win at Portsmouth finally got them believing that the impossible might just be possible after all.

John Hughes could tell his players how great they are and shower them with self-belief 12 hours a day, but if the team are still losing it will always go in one ear and out of the other. It is wins, as well as good man-management that restore confidence and belief. It's a two-way stretch.

My only fear for them now is the way they react to their next defeat. If it's a bad one, a real stinker, that could send them back into a depression. Whatever the nature of their next loss (and it will probably come soon) it's vital they don't get too down about it.

That, in my opinion will be the decisive moment in Hartlepool United's season.

At the top end it's just remarkable how tight things have become. I've never known four points to separate the top seven at this late stage of the season. It's going to be a right old battle over the coming weeks.

The one club to keep an eye on in terms of gate crashing the party are perhaps, Coventry City.

Since Mark Robins left, the players have responded well to Lee Carsley's caretaker management, and three away wins with no goals conceded, shows that they have real steel and organisation about them at the moment.

It's never easy for a young coach to take the reins, but Lee's quickly won the respect of the squad and that's huge. Surely the Sky Blues will hand him the opportunity to take them through until the end of the season now.

Can they break into the Play-Off picture? It will all depend on their home form. They've not been great at the Ricoh Arena.

The problem they face is that many clubs visit a big ground like that and decide to play safety-first counter attacking football.

Finding a way to overcome teams who park the bus isn't that easy, and you have to work hard at trying to open them up. This has been Coventry's biggest problem, but if they hit on the right formula it would be no surprise to see them sneak into the top seven.

Life's never dull at Brentford. After the excitement of their FA Cup run they also had a power cut to deal with at Griffin Park on Saturday, but thanks to some common sense refereeing, the club were able to get the game played against Walsall regardless - even if most of the stadium was without electricity. Well done to the referee on that one.

On Tuesday night they found themselves with a man advantage after just 50 seconds when Crawley Town defender Mark Connolly was sent off for a professional foul. They missed the subsequent penalty but won the game 2-1.

A lot of people don't like to see red cards given for professional fouls that also concede a penalty, as the punishment seems harsh enough but I don't agree.

You need a deterrent to be there. If players knew a deliberate foul that stopped a certain goal was punishable by just a yellow, we could start seeing a lot more cynical tackles conceded. It seems like a double punishment at times, but without that rule, there'd be much more gamesmanship and that's not what anyone wants.

Finally, I'd like to congratulate Oldham Athletic on a fine FA Cup run, which came to an end at Goodison Park this week.

I felt the Latics were hard done by with a clear penalty shout, but on the balance of play a very strong Everton side probably deserved to go through.

The lads can hold their heads up high, and feel really proud of their performances against top flight teams this season, not least Matt Smith who bagged himself another goal on Tuesday.

Matt Smith's done so well, and proven to be a real handful to Premier League defences this season. I wonder if Tony Pulis is looking at him as a potential signing for Stoke City?

I can imagine him wreaking havoc from some of those long throws and corners?

Advertisement block