The Bootiful Game

CHARLIE Hempstead takes an alternative look at the Pilgrims' defeat to Hartlepool United

PEOPLE say that football is unpredictable, but there are certain things you can count on:

1.    Every Argyle away game is a long old poke.

2.    Hartlepool are always bottom of the league.

3.    The pre-match entertainment is so loud that conversation is impossible.

4.    Hartlepool is a good solid northern club whose players have Victorian-sounding names, sensible haircuts and no-nonsense boots.

Given that today’s round trip from PL2 is a mighty 780 miles, we can safely tick off no 1.

Hartlepool may hold the unbeatable record of having successfully applied for re-election to the football league on no fewer than 14 occasions, but since automatic promotion and relegation were introduced in 1986, they have avoided finishing bottom of the pile. In fact, given that when Simon Walton moved on from Argyle to Pools, they were in League 1 and Walts described it – accurately – as a step up, we will have to accept that no 2 is old hat.

No 3 is a given, and is a right pain. All clubs, please take note.

As for no 4, today’s teamsheet was hugely reassuring, containing such traditional names as Sam Collins, Jack Compton and Michael Duckworth, while every haircut would have passed muster in a 1970s’ grammar school, with not a single collar being infringed.

But the boots. Oh deary, deary me.

Time was, anyone not wearing black boots was written off as an attention-seeking Fancy Dan. Now anyone not in something so bright that it could be used to guide the tall ships into Hartlepool marina is seen as some sort of retro freak.

Most colours of the rainbow were present, although pride of place went to Andy Monkhouse, making his 300th appearance for the home side, who must surely have been wearing his turquoise and pink number as some kind of celebratory prank.

The lurid orange sported by James Poole and Jack Compton seemed to imbue them with a pathological urge to inflict damage on anything green. First, Poole launched into Conor Hourihane (luminous green laces and flashes) and must have been mightily relieved to see that the card emerging from Mr Mathieson’s pocket was yellow, not red. No more than five minutes later, Compton’s dayglo-clad feet were making their way down the tunnel following a horrendous lunge on Jamie Reckord (bright yellow) which ended the home player’s involvement.

The fluorescent green boots of Matty Dolan were soon much in evidence, both of them leaving the turf in yet another flying assault on the Pilgrim in possession. The fact that he took the ball was probably all that prevented him joining Compton in the dressing room.

Moments earlier, Walton (all white) had lost his head and bodily flung Rommy Boco (strange other-worldly green-grey) through the gate between the advertising hoardings. Despite the incident happening in full view of 3,929 witnesses, one of whom was holding a yellow and orange chequered flag and standing no more than six paces away, the ex-Green escaped unpunished.

Clear chances to give Argyle the lead came and went, with Hayes (bright yellow) and Hourihane both failing to beat Scott Flinders when one-on-one.

The arrival of half-time saw the emergence onto the pitch of the Argyle subs, including the retro freak that is Paul Wotton, his feet clad in plain black with just a hint of white. At the other end of the spectrum, the English language simply does not have a word for the colour on the end of Tyler Harvey’s legs. You couldn’t call it pink, but orange doesn’t explain it either. Vermilion may get close, but it’s definitely not cerise or magenta. Young Tyler would do well to give it a name and submit a copyright application right away.

After the break, the match continued to resemble an attack v defence training session, until Argyle were almost inevitably punished for their wasteful finishing when Luke James unexpectedly gave the hosts the lead on 55 minutes.

The arrival of Alessandra (grey), Blackman (shiny silver that literally sparkled in the evening sun) and Gurrieri (lollipop-man yellow) did little to raise the mood, as the 10 men stoutly defended their lead and Flinders proved the equal of everything that Argyle could throw at him.

With five minutes left on the clock, Trotman (bright yellow), who was by now playing centre forward, had a headed chance, and even Max Blanchard (shiny orange) had a dig from distance, but the blue and white wall could not be breached.

In the dying moments, skipper Hourihane tried to put his best foot forward, but his shot ended up in the marina, where, like Argyle’s hopes, it sank to the bottom.

After the match, a deflated John Sheridan struggled to explain his side’s inability to turn dominance into victories. He spoke of hard work, of tactical formations, of changes to personnel, even of a bit of good old-fashioned luck.

What he failed to observe was the killer fact. Man-of-the-match Flinders and goalscorer James had one thing in common – they were the only two players on the pitch in black boots.

A quick trip to Sports Direct before Tuesday night to pick up 11 plain pairs, and the result against Newport will be a formality.