I was feeling more positive about this season than I’d expected to until Monday. That certainly gave me cause to reassess things
The performance at Hartlepool was poor. Frankly, the clearest indication of that was the low quality of the home side’s performance. The excellent Liam Noble aside, they didn’t look too clever.
Okay, so Gime Toure scored two as well but the striker, who Dean Keates correctly decided not to give a contract to after a trial period a couple of seasons ago, could hardly miss the chances we gifted him.
I’m not opposed to squad rotation, but can’t help wondering if selecting a full strength side on Saturday and then resting half the outfield players on Monday wasn’t asking for trouble. Certainly, Monday exposed issues of squad depth which need to be considered.
I said earlier that I was pleased with our start to the season. That’s because new signings like Mark Harris have stepped up to the plate and shown they’re ready for the challenge. I fear that beyond the first eleven, the quality might deteriorate too sharply though.
Obviously, we have the likes of Paul Rutherford and Mark Carrington, a redoubtable pair who can be relied on in a number of positions. Also, it should be pointed out that both Ben Tollitt and Akil Wright started despite lacking match sharpness. I’d be loath to criticize either of them.
However, the squad still feels a little light of quality in certain areas and, bearing in mind how they played in pre-season, I can’t help wondering whether it might have been wise to give Matty Sargent and Jack Thorn some time in the first team.
Still, one defeat certainly isn’t a disaster. After all, in 2002-3 we were thumped 5-2 at home by Rochdale, but were still promoted. We also went up in 1992-3, despite a slow start which included a 6-1 loss to Crewe. The injury JJ Hooper picked up at Hartlepool does have the potential to be a serious problem though.
To lose Hooper for any period of time would be an enormous blow. He has the attributes of a genuine centre forward, the sort of qualities we’ve lacked in recent years. He likes to run in behind and stretch defences, he holds the ball up well, and his first touch is excellent, as his goal against Barnet showed.
We simply can’t afford to lose those attributes, and we lack sufficient cover for Hooper too. None of the other attacking players in the squad are the same type of forward: I’d be inclined to use Bobby Grant up front if we weren’t able to field Hooper, but I prefer him on the right.
How ironic, after the morale-boosting arrival of Tollitt, to lose our attacking focal point. I was savouring the thought of a front four of Tollitt, Harris, Grant and Hooper on Saturday. Now I’m worrying about whether the goals will dry up again.
So losing 4-2 to Hartlepool certainly isn’t something we should get too upset over, but it definitely brought a few issues to the surface which Bryan Hughes will want to address before the season takes shape definitively.