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Friday, December 17, 2010

Hartlepool Preview

Whether or not you consider a 0-0 draw a defeat there's a second consecutive 'L' in our results column and it was also our first two non-scoring games in a row since the loss at Colchester and the draw at Leeds in October last year. And the last time we had two defeats in a row last November the sequence was lengthened by another defeat against Southampton in last years JPT. Parky can't allow that to happen this time, of course, because not only is there a vital three points on offer at Victoria Park but there's the potential takeover in the air and Parky needs to establish firmly that he is the man needed to get us promotion.
Before Brentford there was the terrible display against Walsall which left Parky sounding rather like Capello during the World Cup. Of course, its not the first time Walsall have won at the Valley, they've won 2 of the last four there including cup games, and 3 of the last 6 counting Sainburys. Put the blame on Manager of the Monthitis which strikes again although there were a few banana skins mentioned before the game. And, of course, we should be aware of top (well, nearly) v bottom games and there was never a better one than March 2000 when, after 12 successive wins, along came hard-up Swindon who beat us 0-1 thanks to a Dean Kiely own goal after 5 minutes, our first League defeat of the century.
And maybe the situation was like that at Dean Court last Saturday where Bournemouth produced a 140 page progamme to celebrate 100 years at the ground. Hartlepool took note of the possible distractions and made sure that it was going to be their day instead with a 1-0 victory.
And its worth noting that the Walsall game highlighted one of major failings, apart from being able to pass to ball to each other, that, forgetting our cup games, we are still one of a decreasing number of teams, 8 now in Tier Three, that have failed to win a League game after falling behind. Its happened seven times now and we have lost 5 of them including Walsall and we are the only promotion chasing team with this dismal record.

There's not much history between the Addicks and the Pools with a total of only three games played and due to our current lapse in fortunes and one of Hartlepools rare visits to Tier Three last year was the only season we have spent together. We won the game at Victoria Park 2-0 in August 2009 thanks to goals by Burton and Bailey in the first 30 minutes and we also won the return game at the Valley in January by 2-1. The only other game against them was a League Cup tie at the Valley in 2005 which we also won 3-1. So 3 games and 3 wins for the Addicks but will this perfect score continue on Saturday?

Hartlepool became founder members of the Third Division North in 1921 and they share with Rochdale the unwanted record of enjoying 89 years of League football without ever reaching the headly heights of Tier Two. But one thing they share with the Addicks is that our baptism in League football began in the 1921/22 season with both of us being in the regional Third Division, the Addicks in the South and the Pools in the North. But whereas we only stayed eight years before being promoted into the Second Division in 1929, the Pools had to wait 46 years to get that first promotion by finishing third in 1967-68. Sadly Tier Three football only lasted only one season and they were relegated back to Division 4 where they had been since the 4th Division was created in 1958.
However, this is the 4th straight season in Tier Three which is a bit of a record for the Pools although they only survived last season by the skin of their teeth finishing just above Gilllingham on goal difference with a last day goalless draw at Brentford while the Gills were losing 0-3 at Wycombe.

Down in 12th place but they managed to struggle into the top half of the table for only the second time this season with a surprising 1-0 away win last weekend at the number one home team in Tier three, Bournemouth who were on a 5 game unbeaten run. As for their home form and its only the 19th best with only 3 wins and 2 draws from 8 games with a couple of serious hammerings from Wednesday 0-5 and Carlisle 0-4. BUT two of those wins have been against Brighton 3-1 a month ago ( Poyet's first defeat in 13) and the Posh 2-0 before that and they have improved with only one defeat in their last 5 home games.

The Opposition
The 60 year old Mike Wadsworth is currently caretaker manager of the Pools and a more varied managerial life than his can't be imagined. After working for the FA including a coaching role in the 1990 World Cup and FA's Excellence Programme he's moved into management and has managed or been assistant manager at a total of 15 teams including both the Congo and St. Kitts and Nevis national teams and at club level, Oldham, Carlisle, Colchester, Huddersfield, Southampton and Newcastle and many more. So a man with a wealth of experience. He joined the Pools in June as First team coach and has been caretaker manager since Chris Turner left in August.

Midfielder number 15 Anthony Sweeney is doing a Johnnie Jackson and getting the goals. He's got 4 League and 4 cup goals for a total of 8.

Whats Their Secret?
The Pools are a first half team and have only been behind at the interval on two occasions this year. Only the ultra conservative Oldham with 11 first half draws can better that record. The Addicks and Brighton have been on the losing side three times at the 45 minutes.
And they are another team apart from the Addicks whose favorite score is 1-0 - they've had 3 of them. But although only 3 teams have scored less than their 21 goals, they do have a better defence that the Addicks having conceded one less goal than the Addicks.

What Are They Saying?
Manager Wadsworth after last weeks win at Dean Court said: "We were looking forward to this for a while and we've been talking to the players about building momentum and spoiling their party and we managed to do that. It was a very good result for us. We are putting a run together away from home, that's three good displays away from home now. We have a good group of players here and they have some belief now."

The Team
After a 0-0 90 minute scoreline against the best in-form team in Tier 3 Brentford ( 6 wins in their last 8 League games) with a weakened team, perhaps Parky was secretly pleased with the result and losing the potiential headache of extra injury-provoking cup games.
With Jenkinson, Reid, McCormack and Abbott getting rare starts there may be a call to start with the first two against the Pools but I fancy that Parky will be reluctant to introduce Jenkinson into such a crucial game and with top scoring Sweeney playing out left. Francis no doubt took note of the treat from the 18 year old and will want to be on top of his game this weekend.
Christian Dailly at last returned on Tuesday after his ban and got a full 90 minutes in and will be keen to captain the side to another away win in similar fashion to his last away game at Peterborough where we won 5-1.
The only other possible change may somehow involve the return of Reid in place of the recently disappointing Wagstaff although its hard to see how Parky can fit our top scorer Jackson and Reid into the same team without pushing JJ back to full-back where his chances of a goal will be seriously reduced.

Elliot; Francis, Dailly, Doherty, Fry; Wagstaff, Semedo, Racon, Jackson; Anyinsah, Benson

Despite the Pools recent home wins over Brighton and Peterborough, we do have a 100% perfect history against them, a desperate need to get back on track after slipping to fourth and Parky's desire to prove himself to our new owners all of which point to a 2-0 win for the Addicks. But then I won't put any money on it.
And then there's the weather. Friday night in Hartlepool is forecast to be minus 6 with temperatures on the Saturday not rising above -2 but with clear blue skies. Pack them gloves Parky.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Rochdale Preview

A dismal 2-2 home draw with Luton, where the desire if not the skill was with the Hatters, at least preserved, and lengthened, our current 9 match unbeaten run and means just 2 defeats (Brentford and Brighton) in the last 18 League and Cup games. But while we can all have good feeling about that, perhaps we should spare a thought for Luton where the number 18 conjures up a quite different feeling, it being the number of years since they were a Tier One club. And perhaps the three thousand Hatters fans had that in mind as they made the short trip to the Valley, perhaps to remind themselves what it was like in the good old days. And, of course, its up to them now to encourage their players to get them a game that'll really put their memories in gear with the prospect of an away game at White Hart Lane beckoning.

Quite what we'll be doing in 15 years time to push back the memories is anyones guess. And whether we'll have a team with enough passion and skill to get a result in the replay, so as to avoid a second sucessive defeat to a non-league team in the FA Cup we won't have long to ponder. But before moving on, can anyone remember how many of todays Tier Three were in the old Division One 18 years ago? Well, there's four, Wednesday, Southampton, Oldham and Notts County.

Meanwhile, League game 19 approaches and there's now just 5 games left to the half-way point. We had 47 points at the cut last year so we'll need to win all 5 to reach last years haul but a less strong second half of the season saw us ending on 84 at seasons end.


It used to be that having to play Barnsley was a step down for the Addicks but now its little old Rochdale that are Saturdays opposition. But while you may not be impressed by the fact that Rochdale play their games at the 90 year old 10,000 capacity Spotland Stadium, its rumoured that the away fans are graced with the newest stand being the Westrose Leisure Stand, in Willbutts Lane, whose facilities are said to be "second to none". Sadly then, we've only played up there 4 times - two cup ties in 1955 (won 3-1) and 1961 (0-1 defeat) and two League games when we were in Division Three in 1972 (2-0 win) and our last visit there, 34 years ago, in 1974 (1-1 draw).

After finishing 3rd in League Two last season, Rochdale managed promotion for the first time in 41 years having spent the last seemingly endless 36 years in Tier Four. And to add to that dismal record they also share with Hartlepool United the dubious distinction of having played the most seasons in the Football League without ever reaching the top two tiers, 82 years.

The Opposition
The man that Rochdale have to thank for that once in a lifetime promotion in manager, the 43 year old, Keith Hill. After a playing career at Blackburn, Plymouth and Rochdale, he took over as caretaker manager of Rochdale in December 2006 after the departure of the previous incumbent. Rochdale were then in 22nd position in Tier 4. He got things working and they finished the season in 8th position. His first full season they got as far as the Playoff final before losing to Stockport and the next year they lost in the Playoff Semis before finally getting automatic promotion last season by finishing 3rd behind Notts County and Bournemouth. So 3 and a half successful seasons for Mr Hill.


Number 8 is the 33 year old Rochdale legend and captain Gary Jones. He's been with the Dale for the last 8 years, plus three years before he played for Barnsley, and holds the record for Dale appearances with 390. He's also the current top goalscorer this season with 10.
Therry can have a few words in French with number 14 Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, thats as long as he gets off the bench. Akpro is an ex of Grimsby, where he was a part of the disappointing 25 game winless run that finished with Grimsby being relegated to the Conference last season.
Rochdale are also the only team in the UK to have two Kennedy's in the team. Left back Tom takes the penalties while number 7 Jason has played in the Prem in 2005 for Middlesborough while 18 years of age. No, not against us.


The Dale made a very good start to their new life in Tier Three with 4 wins and only a single defeat in their first nine games reaching a heady fourth place in the table. But then the oxygen ran out and three consecutive defeats to the three yokels from the West, with only a single goal being scored, against Exeter, Yeovil and Bristol Rovers and they have now only won 1 game in the last 9.

So its been a steady slip down from 4th to the current 15th place and with a home record that is now only 17th best in Tier Three, although they have managed to score three times in three of their last five home games in beating Huddersfield 3-0, the Daggers 3-2 and drawing with Swindon 3-3.

But on overall form there's no-one to beat the Addicks with 17 points from the last 24 while Rochdale are 21st with only 6 points from their last 8 games. And we are the 2nd best away team, after Gus, but with 4 goals more than anyone else with 20 in 9 games.

What Are They Saying

Gus Poyet, after being booed off at half-time by the Withdean crowd during their 1-1 draw with non-league FC United, was very upset after the game, "I was very disappointed with the fans and I invite all those who booed us at half-time to stay at home, because I don't want that and I don't accept it. Proper supporters are the ones who support their team during every single minute. And it sounds like he already given up any chance during the replay by saying he'll field a reserve team.

Whats Their Secret

Whereas the Addicks have twice as many score-first games as Rochdale, 12 to 6, the Dale have a much better record of coming from behind. There remain only three teams in the top half of the table that have not yet won after going behind, the Addicks, Carlisle and Exeter whereas Rochdale have clawed back seven points after falling behind.

They are also the 12th highest scorers in Tier Three with only 5 goals less that the Addicks and are the only club in the bottom 13 that have a positive goal difference.

The Team

Two home draws after 5 straight wins won't please Parky but after only 9 goals scored in our first 9 home League and cup games we at least have 6 in the last three, even though non-league opposition are included. And its highlighted in our goalscoring charts which nobody could have guessed back in August. Johnnie Jackson, fresh from another appearance in the Football Leagues Team of the Week, leads the list with an impressive 8 - one more than his previous best season with Colchester - while Benson, chasing 22 from 50 games last season, now has 7 but only 2 at home, while Waggy has already gone one better than last seasons efforts and is on 6. Joe Anyinsah, still struggling with his fitness and with only one full 90 minutes to his name (524 minutes in total ) already has 4, while Therry Racon with 4 from his previous 3 seasons and 66 Addicks games has already equalled that in his 20 games this season.

As for the team, Christian Dailly serves his 3rd of 4 matchs out, and with the cup replay counting as his 4th will be back for the game against Walsall. Matt Fry returns after his one match suspension and Doherty should be back after his dead leg suffered against Bristol, while Martin returns after being cup-tied but may be too lightweight for an away game at Rochdale.

The real doubt perhaps rests on Jose Semedo's hamstring "complaint" and whether he has recovered enough to put McCormack back on the bench. Jose, meanwhile, is dying to play remembering that his last, and only, goal for the addicks was a few miles, well 32, away from Spotland at Tranmere in August 2009 and with Therry racking them up he's feeling just a tad jealous.

Elliot; Francis, Doherty, Fortune, Fry; Wagstaff, Semedo, Racon, Jackson; Anyinsah, Benson.


The Form Book says a clear away win with the teams being 1st against 21st over the last 8 plus the always helpful fact that we haven't lost at Spotland for 49 years. And for the Addicks its vital we make the most of the next two away games at the Dale and Hartlepool, and the Walsall home game between, before a difficult sequence of games begins on December 26th with the arrival of Southampton.

Bearing in mind the weather theres's some doubt that the game will go ahead but if it does, 2-1 to the Addicks.