How will we respond to Hartlepool?
The performance at Victoria Park wasn’t good. However, neither was bad enough to trigger the sort of online backlash which followed it. Teams lose games; teams that make six changes from their strongest eleven usually lose games.
Outcomes like that need to spark a reaction though, and Bryan Hughes is confident his players will deliver in the hot atmosphere of a derby. A good performance on such an occasion will keep the fans positive; a poor performance could really dent attendances for a run of home games which will stretch fans’ finances.
How will we replace JJ Hooper?
There’s been very little information about JJ Hooper’s injury – let’s hope no news is good news. However, the way he went off at Hartlepool looked like the sort of muscular injury that puts you out for a couple of weeks at least, and Hooper is probably the player we can least afford to lose right now.
His pacy, muscular movement up front has brought a new attacking threat to the side. So who would replace him if he’s out?
For me, it’s got to be Bobby Grant, who sounds up for the scrap after the Hartlepool defeat. He’s on a scoring run, having already bettered his total for last season despite missing nearly half our games through suspension, and has shown he can battle with centre backs.
Mark Harris might also be an option, as he’s clearly a player who can break off the shoulder of the last defender (not literally! Only Shaun Pearson could possibly do that!)
However, I suspect Hughes might plump for Leighton McIntosh, who has still to show us what he can do since his move south of the border.
Can we finish with eleven men?
With three red cards from seven games, I think it’s fair to say this has become a problem.
The talk is of a lack of discipline, but I don’t think that’s the case. One of the reds was for a professional foul, which are ten a penny, and the others were isolated incidents. However, I accept that when isolated incidents become a pattern, I’ll have to change my view on that!
Bryan Hughes feels the decisions were all harsh, but I can’t really go along with that. Jake Lawlor was clearly the last defender against Halifax, and went in with two feet at Hartlepool. Bobby Grant took a swipe at the keeper at Dover; it wasn’t something that would hurt him, but you simply can’t do that sort of thing.
Hughes is right to point to the erratic decision-making of referees – it seems even more pronounced than usual this season – and right to suggest we need to get more “cute” in how we handle them. However, the refs got those red card decisions right, and we need to make sure we don’t give them the opportunity to give us more.
Is Ben Tollitt ready yet?
The thought of Ben Tollitt firing on all cylinders is an exciting one. However, his only competitive football this season has been in the last week. At Hartlepool he had some very nice touches, and his involvement in Akil Wright’s goal was classy. However, he clearly wasn’t fully up to speed yet. Against a progressive full back in Sam Minihan, is he ready, with a week of training under his belt, to really let fly?
Who partners Pearson?
With Jake Lawlor suspended for another four games, there’s a real chance for someone to stake a claim for a starting place at centre back. Michael Chambers is clearly first choice, having filled in for him during his previous suspension, but he may not be fit in time for today’s game.
The other option appears to be Adam Barton. Would he be able to fill in successfully and be the man in possession when Chambers is fit? Doug Tharme must be cursing his luck!