By Gerry PrewettCurrently sitting in 22nd spot in League Two Hartlepool United take the reverse trip that Bristol Rovers took on Tuesday 29th September.
Two of the longest journeys that any League teams take and they are both scheduled for mid-week? Rovers trip to Victoria Park was in many respects a turning point for the Gas after a comfortable mid-week victory.
Pools have struggled for most of the season season. They got off to a flyer winning their first three games (and a League Cup tie too). Following that they picked up just one point from the next 10 games as the plummeted.
After a 2-1 defeat at home to Stevenage on 9 February, Pools parted company with their previous saviour Ronnie Moore. Appointed in December 2014 Moore saved the club from relegation last season, where Pools pulled back a 10-point deficit to preserve their Football League status. The Stveneage defeat was their fourth successive game without a win, and their 16th league defeat of the season. However, a number of postponements meant that Hartlepool had played fewer games than any of the bottom six clubs, including five fewer than Stevenage.
Moore’s replacement was Craig Hignett who oversaw an immediate bounceback as they beat fellow strugglers Yeovil 2-1, however they then lost the next two games. On Saturday they earned probably their best result of the season a 0-0 draw to end Northampton Town’s 10 game winning streak. Pools Luke James and Billy Paynter took the game right up to the Cobblers and a late Paynter shot was deflected wide.
Looking back at games between the Gas and the Monkey Hangers the history is not a long one, surprisingly for club’s that have been in existence for so long. The first game didn’t take place until the 1961/62 season, a League Cup game which Rovers won 2-1.
Matches between the teams were generally low scoring. However there have been two 2-2 draws, on 23 October 2010 at the Victoria Ground. Joe Gamble on 29 minutes and Tony Sweeny scored for the Monkey Hangers with 11 minutes of the game left. Jo Kuffour pulled back the first on 85 minutes and Byron Anthony scored for Rovers right on 90 minutes. Andy Monkhouse was in the Pools team for that game.
The last time Rovers entertained the North Eastern team was on 21 September 2013, Matt Harrold gave Rovers a 35th minute lead but immediately Luke James hit back for Pools and to compound the pain, gave the away team the lead on the stroke of half-time. It took the whole of the second half for John-Joe O’Toole to find the equaliser.
Jake Carroll was lauded by Pools Boss Craig after an performance in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Northampton. Hignett had previously dropped the Irishman despite being the only ever-present under previous boss Ronnie Moore. It was only an injury to his replacement Dan Jones that recently gave him his spot back.
“Jake was outstanding, in terms of what we’re asking him to do, covering the centre-halves, getting closer to people, winning the ball and passing it,” said Hignett, “He was different class and I’m pleased for Jake.” He went on to note, “Our shape, belief and organisation was good.”
“Last week, we switched off and got done by a really sloppy goal, when we really shouldn’t have lost. This time the message before the game was ‘concentration’. If the game’s tight, let’s make sure we see it out whether it’s 94, 95 minutes. To be fair, defensively, I thought we were excellent.”
Pools skipper Billy Paynter says his team will approach the game with confidence. Pools’ last five away games have produced one point from five games but Paynter says the belief has risen on the back of Saturday’s draw with Northampton Town.
“It was a positive result and nice to get a clean sheet and we can kick on from that for Bristol Rovers. Northampton had 10 straight wins and I think, on paper, people would not have backed us,” he said.
“The lads were a bit downhearted that we didn’t come away with all three points, but I think we’d have taken a point before the game. It was a positive result and nice to get a clean sheet and we can kick on from that for Bristol Rovers.”
“The manager was pleased, the work we’ve done on the training field has been taken on board, you can see that. Everyone will look at this draw and say it’s a good result and something to build on. It is good for our confidence.”
“I think the back four and Trevor Carson will be delighted to have a clean sheet,” he said, “We were really solid, forcing them down back alleys and pressuring them into losing the ball. We were getting in positions, it was just that final ball at times that did not come off.