Rock Bottom

After a decent win against Swindon Town, next up are bottom of the league Hartlepool United, a whole five places and nine points behind us in the league. So not in the play off places for a change. And we are playing on a Friday night. A fixture said to be rearranged to avoid any kind of clash with England playing in the World Cup. But done so before the outcome of the group phase was known, so it could have ended up clashing after all if England had finished runners-up in their group. Even winning the group wouldn’t have caused a clash with a Saturday 3pm kick off, but someone thought it would be a good idea to make Hartlepool travel down for a Friday night game in freezing conditions.

And it was cold. The temperature had been below zero all day, and the club had had covers on the pitch for most of it, yet come the time we arrived (very last-minute dot com, more by luck than judgement, and a good idea in the cold), the grass was looking more white than green.

I got a programme, which was quite error free for a change, and popped it into the bag for us which also had a hot water bottle, blanket and heat proof mug of tea for Helen. It was probably the warmest thing in the stadium. I’m quite sure that our favourite steward Al was quite happy not to be on duty tonight.

There was no away fans coach in the car park, which isn’t a surprise for a three-hundred-mile journey on a work day for an evening clash, but inside the ground there was a reasonable number of fans stood in the away terrace, obviously looking for a weekend away in Crawley. Hartlepool were wearing their usual blue and white stripes, white shorts and socks, and there were a lot of hardy players out on the pitch in short sleeved tops. Unlike the lino on our side who had at least three layers on.

Before kicking off there was a minute’s clapping to commemorate the schoolboy who had died in a traffic accident the week before.

Once underway there is some early pressure, but as we had seen a number of times before, no real end product. A Hartlepool player goes down in the box on their first attack, but claims are waved away as he did go down in stages with no contact. This is quickly followed by a shout for a Crawley penalty. Dom Telford goes down in the box, waved away again. I’d like to see a replay as it did look like his heels were clipped.

The terrace starts an early chant of “Super, super Tom, super Tommy Nichols”, which is repeated sporadically, and taken up a couple of times from the east stand. Aimed at the owners / director of football, as Tom Nichols isn’t playing and for the second game since the new manager was appointed, not even in the squad. Various rumours around this are flying around, such as a deal has bene agreed for him to sign for someone else, the DoF is interfering, wrong kind of stats, bad influence, global warming. All sorts. But he isn’t playing, and the locals aren’t happy.

(The forums are full of speculation about this and other club activities. There is a great deal of enmity towards the DoF, and between supporters about the board and DoF. It has been reported the whole squad are on the EFL transfer board, which the DoF denies, but it all seems a mess.)

A quarter of an hour in and Ashley Nadesan goes down with an injury, and after a couple of minutes treatment is replaced. We also lose Joel Lynch to an injury. Just after the half hour mark ball one disappears over our east stand from a Harry Ransom hoofed clearance.

There have been quite a few changes due to illness since the last match and one of those missing is Ludwig Francillette, which on this increasingly ice looking surface is probably a good thing as he would have looked even more like Bambi on ice than he usually does.

Four minutes of added time and there is a James Tilley shot and the crowd cheer, but it into the side netting with a slight deflection and only a corner.

So far in the match it would appear that the person with the most successful passes to Hartlepool players is Jack Powell. After the wonder goal against Swindon last time out, normal service has been resumed, and the “must hit the first man” mantra from set pieces is back with a vengeance.

At half time it is 0-0, and ooh, what is that I can hear? Chelsea Dagger? Again? Followed by “Seven Nation Army”, and “Bittersweet Symphony”, and the world’s worst techno remix of “Just Can’t Get Enough”. How about just get a new playlist?

Fortunately, time is moving quicker than the temperature is dropping and it is soon nearly half way into the second half. Again, there has been some pressing by Crawley, but with no end result. Jack Powell has been substituted – to muted cheers – as was Nick Tsaroulla, not sure why for the second one of them. And Hartlepool’s first attack of the half sees them get a corner, from which an unopposed header makes it 0-1.

Quarter of an hour later Hartlepool get another corner, and it is 0-2. They didn’t even have to head this one in, as one of our own players did, but there did look to be a couple of blatant pushes in the back, both on Johnson who had the misfortune to score the own goal, and another player of ours who ended up on the deck.

As the board goes up for four added minutes again, the crowd is announced as a (league) season low of 1,955 with a respectable 128 away fans. There is no sponsor’s man of the match award. It’s not certain whether this is because the cold has driven away the sponsors long before the end (by the time the crowd was announced I’d have been surprised if there were many over a thousand left in the ground), or they were in agreement with most of the home crowd that none of the players deserved anything like an accolade for the performance.

It is deep into stoppage time when Crawley get their first shot on target, a header from James Tilley, which is met with ironic cheers from the few that remained.

The full-time whistle goes, and so unfortunately do the tones of “Boys Don’t Cry”, though the ground empties rapidly, and apart from us our entire stand is empty before the second verse kicks in. Gone to watch the penalty shoot out in the Netherlands vs Argentina WC quarter final.

We head home, glad to be moving and getting some warmth through to our bodies. Tranmere Rovers away next in the league, so hopefully that might lift our game. We stay nineteenth in the table, probably helped by the two sides directly beneath us in the league having their games postponed due to frozen pitches (something we could have done with, a shame someone didn’t nip down and nick the covers Thursday night), but the win saw Hartlepool jump out of the relegation places for the first time in a couple of months.

Come on you reds.

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