Fan’s View – Hartlepool

Article by Paul Beasley Sunday, September 29th, 2013  

The advantages of living in Oxfordshire

I said last week that Hartlepool is a bloody long way but who cares about distance when wins are to be had on our travels. Anyway it was only a mere 450 mile round trip from Bicester; the next visitors to Victoria Park, Plymouth, will cover 775 miles getting there and back.  We don’t know we’re born.

I had five crammed into my car for this one which was a bit strange as we could only rustle up four for Burton and three for Cheltenham.  The further away the more interest perhaps, although I think it being a new ground (for some) had quite a bit to do with the decent turnout we had in the North East.

Victoria Park

This was my third visit. My first was back in the eighties when I was working in the area. I can’t remember who the Monkey Hangers were playing but I do recall the football was awful and the ground was falling down and about to collapse into the street.  It was at a time before segregation had been introduced and for some reason I chose to wander round behind the goal at the opposite end to where all the action was. I only had the keeper for company and two young kids who were merrily playing as kids do. They were oblivious to the fact that a football match was taking place and somehow their game took them through a gap in the perimeter wall and into the penalty area. No-one noticed. 

Progress has of course been made in the decades that followed and by the time Oxford rocked up in 2001 for the first time since the ‘60’s the ground had been propped & smartened up and regeneration of the surrounding area had taken some hold.

The price ain’t right

The “modernisation” and I use the term quite loosely, of many grounds has resulted in fans being massively ripped off. The away seating at Hartlepool has just been dropped on top of fairly shallow terracing behind the goal and for good measure there are a few pillars to obscure one’s view. For the privilege, travellers have to pay£20 if pre-purchased and £25 on the day. I gambled on the possibility of a complimentary ticket but ended up paying the higher price. For the view on offer I think £13 would have been about fair.

We were done big time at Cheltenham too. £23 behind the goal with no option to buy earlier at a discount.  Pre-match in the Kemble Brewery Inn, a Cheltenham fan from Oxford, was moaning about Oxford fans moaning about the price. The true facts are a bit different.  Not bothering to consider the facts, he was adamant that that is what Oxford charge too.  The facts are that away fans pay £21.50 on the day at the Kassam and £19 if purchased beforehand. £23 is the max on the day price for the best seats for home fans. Plus the view of the pitch at our place is far superior to that at places like Whaddon Road and Victoria Park.

My club rightly comes in for criticism with regard to some things but we are far from being the biggest villains when it comes to ticket prices.

Pre-match expectation

Last week I said that I was “not that optimistic” about our prospects but my outlook was positively cheery when compared to my mate Kevin’s. Sat in the Rat Race Ale House, a drinking room without a bar, on platform one of Hartlepool station he confidently informed the two home fans we were chatting to that they would win.

I’d decided that we would have a reasonable chance of all three points if Deane Smalley and Sean Rigg were both fully fit and able to keep going for 90 plus minutes.

I’d expected to see Scott Davies to start, not Ryan Williams. 

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First half

We absolutely controlled the first half of the first half.  We retained possession with ease and I was obviously rather pleased that Williams had started when he put us one up after five minutes. It was a cool accurate finish, kept on the ground and threaded in by the post. It was an amazing, if somewhat surprising, bit of skill from my man of the match, Michael Raynes, which set the goal up. Facing away from goal he controlled a clearance following a throw-in, beat a man and executed a drag back of sorts before Williams stepped in.  

I thought Hartlepool were very poor and was unimpressed when we relinquished control during the second period of this half. Another mate, Mark, disagreed with my assessment of the opposition, damning them with faint praise, “they’re not bottom six”.

The home fans certainly weren’t impressed and those stood to our right were screaming for them to get the ball to their left winger.  When it did eventually head his way they cheered enthusiastically. When it sailed over his head it was the Oxford fans cheering.  Yes, they were that bad.

Second half

We carried on as we had left off before the break, not really doing much and within three minutes had conceded. I thought we were unlucky not to have been awarded a foul but the clearance that was headed back into our box should have been better dealt with by my motm.  As it wasn’t, young James was able to add to the two goals he bagged last weekend.

I now feared for our chances. As it turned out Hartlepool having a lot of the ball in our half but not doing a lot with it suited us fine. I had been impressed with Riggy. He has a fair amount of strength and determination to go with his trickery. It was this drive that lead to one of our few breaks and the ball he played through a square back line for Alfie to run on to was near perfect. Although Alfie was forced wide this did not mean the chance had gone as he turned back on himself before rolling the ball to Deane Smalley.  Deane’s first touch killed the ball stone dead, his second with his other foot had put us back in the lead. There were quite a lot of similarities with our opener as both were low and close to the post giving keeper Flinders little chance.

I can’t remember either side forcing memorable saves or having efforts going narrowly wide which meant that the nervousness that comes with a single goal lead when entering the final stages wasn’t as intense as usual.

That said it was still rather nice to see Asa Hall confidently convert the penalty in stoppage time.  Aside from a couple of mistakes I thought he had another good game but I don’t think he’s the sort of player the fans will ever fully warm to.

Alfie, who got better as the game wore on, did well to help win the penalty by forcing a back-pass to be under hit. When players with flare do this “ugly stuff” too you are on the right track. Flinders didn’t really need to bring Davies down but did and made the last few seconds academic.

As for the Howard sending off, having seen it on the telly I thought it was harsh but I seem to be in a minority judging by comments on OUFC forums.

Reasons to be cheerful – Goals

I don’t think anyone (yet?) looks on us as being a team banging the goals in but we’ve scored three more than any other team in League Two. Forgetting Smalley’s profligacy against Chesterfield our conversion ratio of chances created to goals scored is impressive. I can’t remember us missing anything on Saturday. In the past we have been begging for a specialist striking coach.

Reasons to be cheerful – Players Returning

Beano on the bench was a bonus and Riggy looks properly fit.

Reasons to be cheerful – Away Form

This goes without saying.

Reasons not to be so cheerful – Home Form

This also goes without saying and our next three games are at the Kassam.

It’s now standard that we’ll debate this on the journey home, particularly when Mark is on board. Unfortunately we do not have answers although some good points are being made on the Yellow Forum. As I’ve referenced my source I’ll nick a few quotes:

Pottersrightboot –  The hectoring, nit picking attitude, shown by some supporters from the first minute of our home games doesn’t really help the team much though does it? As for the weird dichotomy between our home and away record, Wilder has got to take the handbrake off at home! Play at a tempo, play with wingers and yes make ourselves more open. 

Gary Baldi – A chap near me needs to calm down.  Every game he’s on the verge of some sort of melt down if we aren’t winning in the first 20 minutes of a game.  He’s not as bad as the other chap I heard people talking about that was happy Smalley hit the post rather than the ball going in.  If the fans put more energy into being positive (as the away fans are) it would improve the atmosphere a lot.  

So what I’ll end with is a plea to our fans who are going to turn up next Saturday, if you can’t find it in your hearts, for whatever reason, to be positive whilst the game is in progress, please shut the **** up and at least don’t be vocally negative. Not too much to ask surely?

This entry was posted on Sunday, September 29th, 2013 at 6:47 pm and appears under 2013, Comment. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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