Report: Hartlepool United 1 Argyle 0Hartlepool United 1
by RICK COWDERY
TEN-MAN Hartlepool sent Argyle back from their longest trip of the season with nothing but a bad taste in the mouth.
Despite losing sent-off midfielder Jack Compton – and, for a time, their heads – midway through the first half, Pools regained composure to score against the run of play early in the second half through in-form striker Luke James.
Argyle threw the kitchen sink at their hosts for the rest of the match but the Monkey Hangers hung on for only their second home win of the season, thanks in no small part to the form of goalkeeper Scott Flinders.
Pilgrims’ manager John Sheridan had stayed faithful to the starting 11 that had paved the way to a 1-1 home draw against Portsmouth seven days earlier.
That meant another outing for the three-centre-backs, two wing-backs shape that had dominated Pompey for a good part of the Dockyard Derby, with Rommy Boco playing in the hole behind attackers Reuben Reid and Paul Hayes.
The only change to the part was on the bench, where veteran Guy Branston was replaced by the even more veteran Paul Wotton.
Hartlepool went into the match high on confidence and goals after three successive away wins in a week in which they scored eight times and conceded only from a penalty.
Their midfield included former Argyle skipper Simon Walton, whose three and a half loan-peppered years at Home Park included 66 games, 10 goals, and a Herculean unpaid effort to help keep the Pilgrims in the Football League.
Argyle started strongly again and, after a couple of forays into the Pools’ box, looked odds on to take the lead when Reid broke free, muscled his way past Christian Baldwin and took the ball around goalkeeper Flinders . In doing so, his slightly checked momentum allowed Baldwin to gain back the lost yardage and win back the ball.
The Pilgrims continued to make all the running and went close to opening the scoring after captain Conor Hourihane won a free-kick on the edge of the Hartlepool penalty area.
Luke Young’s first shot was beaten down, but he seized on the rebound to curl a shot around the disintegrating defensive wall that Flinders scrambled to save. The ball fell to Boco, who was also thwarted by an even better save from Flinders.
Hartlepool started to implode in the 26th minute when Jack Compton went over the top on Jamie Reckord to such an extent that the red card was out of referee Scott Mathieson’s back pocket even before Reckord hit the deck.
Hayes and Hourihane were the first two Pilgrims to benefit as Argyle made intelligent use of the extra space to work an opening for shots that Flinders saved.
Hartlepool were somewhat fortunate to remain only one man down as their collective loss of head spread to Walton, who shoved Boco into the surrounds behind the linesman’s back, and Matty Dolan, whose tackle on Young was as much of a red-card offence as Compton’s had been.
The feisty nature of the contest spurred Polls to great defensive efforts but Argyle continued to probe and Hayes’ clever flick close in after Neal Trotman’s header was scrambled off the goal line.
The second half saw the Pilgrims take up where they left off, with wing-backs Reckord and Durrell Berry hugging their respective touchlines to stretch undermanned Hartlepool.
This gave the space for Curtis Nelson to fire a shot that was blocked, and Reid to follow suit with one that went wide. Hourihane took the cue and let loose with one that flying Flinders stretched to tip on to the post.
Reid was substituted, to his apparent frustration, in favour of Lewis Alessandra before up-against-it Hartlepool took a surprise lead through James’ individual prowess. The diminutive Hartlepool forward ran past Reckord with some ease and fired off a shot that crept inside Luke McCormick’s far post through Nelson’s legs.
Reckord was off the field before the re-start, with Andre Blackman given the task of picking a path down the left wing, and the attacking options were increased shortly afterwards when Andres Gurrieri replaced Berry on the opposite flank. No-one could accuse Sheridan of not going for it.
Pool, though, had something to hold on to and kept their shape and discipline well. Better than they had before they scored, in fact.
They needed fortune, too, and Flinders scrambled Nelson’s header away for a corner more by luck than judgment.
However, Argyle’s attacks were not carrying the same conviction that they had earlier, Alessandra’s volley from Boco’s cross that went high being a rare incisive move that might have produced the equaliser.
Hourihane tried to provide a captain’s inspiration with a low shot, but Flinders pouched the ball again, as he did when Blackman clipped in a powerful cross.
Argyle kept plugging away but Flinders kept them at bay, notably when the admirable Nelson got his head to another Boco cross, and when Gurrieri let leash.
Hartlepool United (4-4-2): 1 Scott Flinders; 21 Michael Duckworth (5 Sam Collins 90), 6 Jack Baldwin, 35 Christian Burgess, 2 Neil Austin (capt); 14 Jack Compton, 8 Simon Walton, 4 Matty Dolan, 11 Andy Monkhouse; 10 James Poole (19 Jordan Richards 71), 33 Luke James (7 Jonathan Franks 90). Substitutes (not used): 13 Andy Rafferty (gk), 15 Antony Sweeney, 23 Nialle Rodney, 38 Bradley Walker.
Sent off: Compton 26.
Booked: Poole 13, Dolan 34.
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 4 Max Blanchard, 16 Neal Trotman, 17 Curtis Nelson; 2 Durrell Berry (27 Andres Gurrieri 67), 14 Luke Young, 8 Rommy Boco, 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 28 Jamie Reckord (3 Andre Blackman 56); 9 Reuben Reid, (7 Lewis Alessandra 52), 19 Paul Hayes. Substitutes (not used): 1 Jake Cole (gk), 15 Paul Wotton, 18 Tyler Harvey, 20 Hamza Bencherif.
Booked: Young 37.
Referee: Scott Mathieson.
Attendance: 3,929 (273 away).