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Torquay United 0 Hartlepool United 0
STAYING in the same hotel as the Hartlepool United squad on Friday night was comedian Chubby Brown.
At least one Teesside visitor to the English Riviera raised a smile and a laugh at the weekend, as there was precious little for Pools to chuckle at.
The comic was performing in Torquay on Saturday night; the footballers likewise a couple of hours earlier.
Brown played to a packed house, with his brand of X-rated humour; some of the statistics associated with Pools are of a similar obscene nature: winless in six games this season, goalless in five League One games, and sitting second bottom of League Two.
Add in an scrappy and often morose goalless draw at Plainmoor, an afternoon when the home centre-halves were able to lay into Steve Howard, Luke James and Matty Dolan without as much as a bad word from the referee, and being forced to defend frantically with the Gulls having their first effort after just 14 seconds, it wasn’t much fun for Pools.
And that’s without the 365-mile, eight hour haul home on Saturday night.
Still, since the three soft goals shipped at Rochdale on the opening day of the season, Pools have only shipped two in four games.
Defensively, despite the oft-shaky nature of this performance, Pools are looking settled. The introduction of Michael Duckworth on the right and moving Neil Austin to the left has been a seamless transition on both fronts.
In the middle, the partnership between Jack Baldwin and Christian Burgess, while both had some uneasy moments on Saturday, is one of real talent and promise.
It’s ahead of them the problems lie.
Simon Walton has had two good games in the engine room. Back in the south west, where he captained Plymouth and played the best football of his career, this performance wasn’t up to standard, riddled with slack passing.
He can act as a playmaker, a quarterback to feed the forward line and he looked exasperated at times.
Jon Franks was recalled for James Poole and, while the attacker was scoring for fun last week in training and practice games, chances were scarce here.
Howard is always up for a physical challenge, but the rules were bent in the defender’s favour here.
Referee Oliver Langford gave Krystian Pearce and licence to kill.
Pearce performed a fine karate move on Matty Dolan, before Aaron Downes elbowed Howard in the face. Howard had to go off at half-time, with his eye closed and six stitches in his cheek. Downes then cynically and clinically chopped James down from behind to the approval of Langford.
“Stevie's got six stitches in his face – defenders can't get away with that,’’ insisted Cooper.
“The referee didn't even speak to him about it. One centre-back got away with giving my centre-forward six stitches in his cheek and the other got away with persistent fouling all afternoon.
“I don't think my players got any protection but hey, it's a tough world.
“Stevie came off an angry person, he thought Downes had got away with murder. Steve can dish it out and has done over the years, but in modern day football you can't come out of a challenge with a two-inch gash and the referee not to see anything,
“Matty got caught above the knee with another one in the first half – but that's life sometimes and football is a man's game.
Steve Howard, with his cut and bloodied face, is booked by referee Oliver Langford
“Steve got slightly frustrated and was booked.
“He was angry as a bear at half-time and probably wanted some retribution.
“But his eye was starting to close and his vision a bit blurred so it was best to bring him off.’’
James was introduced for Howard and his movement was improved on recent games. The homework he’s been set by Cooper may be paying off.
Pools hadn’t created anything of note before they strung a dozen passes together from back to front on 56 minutes.
The ball was then played past Downes for James to chase and, while his run took him wide, his finish was saved by keeper Martin Rice.
After Austin cleared a shot off the line, Flinders kept out a Jack Baldwin header, and the Gulls had an effort ruled offside, Pools could have sneaked it.
Bradley Walker took down Franks deep cross, and, as he was closed down by keeper Rice, poked wide.
“Brad did the best he could, he was just falling back as the ball came over the defender's head,’’ said Cooper.
“He took his touch forward and had to stretch. The defender had a little tug at him though.
“If it had have rolled in we would have been delighted.’’
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