Fan’s View – 2019/20 – no.32 – FA Cup Round 3 – Hartlepool at home

Article by Paul Beasley Sunday, January 5th, 2020  


Our Opponents and a bit of a meaningless preview

It’s hard to believe now but Hartlepool spent eight of nine seasons from 2004/05 onwards in tier three of the Football League. More recently though they’ve had a miserable time of it which means, without wishing to sound arrogant in any way, they’ll be incredibly motivated for this cup tie in a give it absolutely everything nothing to lose kind of way. It’s not as if they are challenging for promotion although they probably need to keep a wary eye over their shoulders at the relegation trap door.

They’re currently 16th in the National league and that’s where they finished last season and the time before were just one place higher. In 2013/14 they ended up second bottom of L1 and then in L2 their final placings were 19th, 22nd and 16th before they dropped out of the Football League in 2016/17.

When I think of Hartlepool what immediately pops into my head is the monkey hanging thing (real or not) and the fancy dress exploits of their fans on the last day of many a campaign with the image of lots of smurfs descending the escalator at Kings Cross station a few years back hard to shake off. Get out there, make a day of it. Have a crack.

Smurf day was a trip to play Charlton. Their last away game of 2019/20 is only about eight miles from the Valley. They’re at Bromley. Times change. Considering this though their support has held up rather well. The last time we played at Victoria Park in 2015 (1-0, Danny Hylton) the attendance was 3,622 and so far this season their average home gate is 3,311. My expectations were for there to be a fairly large and vociferous turnout of followers of the Pool.

Their current league form, excluding their second round replay win on penalties in this cup, is won just one of the last seven matches in all competitions. That says we should win quite easily but their fans will be up for this much more than ours and that can help the sway of the game. I fully understand why the North stand is not being opened for home fans. Don’t waste money on stewards, turnstile operators etc. and don’t scatter those that do turn up too thinly. But it is all a bit defeatist. Perhaps a bit more publicity and talking up the fact that it was just a tenner to get in might have worked. The Man City game takes care of itself and it is always reasonably easy to convince people to attend over the festive period. Could it be that matches like this really need the boost?

To be honest I’m probably only writing all this because I get (almost) just as much enjoyment watching OUFC play a team from the National league (provided it is in the cup) as I do a top Premier League outfit (that’s always only likely to be in a cup, but we can think of Bournemouth and dream the impossible dream).

Financially Hartlepool are not big hitters and it all went a bit wrong a while back. They nearly went into liquidation in 2018 but that was avoided when the club was sold to an Indian businessman based in the North east, Raj Singh.

Their last accounts to y/e July 2018 record a loss for the period of £1.6m with debt then running at £1.2m. It doesn’t take much for clubs at that level to get tipped over the edge particularly if still paying Football league wages.

One player now being paid a wage by Hartlepool is Michael Raynes. Not the subtlest of centre-halves but it can be said he gave his all in 79 league starts for us. I’m surprised it is that many and I have no recollection of the goal he scored for us.

Oxford United 4 Hartlepool United 1

Getting the crowd going. Photo, Simon Jaggs

That filing cabinet stuffed full of the many matches that fall into the game of two halves category has had to make room for one more after we progressed to round four of our second major cup competition of the season. There’s absolutely no other way to sum this match up.

Pre-match on Radio Oxford our non-playing captain John Mousinho, who I’m feeling more and more is slowly being integrated into the coaching team, discussed our patient way of playing. That was exactly how we began. Keeping the ball by playing it around in our own half with no great desire to go at the visitors hell for leather and with pace.

One thing that certainly wasn’t part of the game plan was the cock up we produced in the 9th minute. In a tight situation where most of the players on the park had gathered not far from the angle of our penalty area, Robbie Hall passed to Alex Gorrin who turned backwards and poked the ball to Rob Dickie. His was a lazy pass with just a little touch on it but not the required pace. Neither Elliott Moore nor Jordan Archer reacted in a way that told us they were yet sufficiently switched on to cope with 90 minutes of professional football. Mark Kitching didn’t hang about and the ball was in our net. Personally I place the majority of the blame at RD’s door. Just a bit of the Stuart Pearce against San Marino about it.

Not the start we wanted obviously but no-one to blame but ourselves. For the rest of the first period we did little that would make any observer think we were near the top of L1 and that there was such a gap in status between the two teams. There wasn’t much zip to our play and whilst there were glimpses of talent that was a level above that of our opponents, it wasn’t getting us anywhere. In fact Hartlepool were dealing with us very well and in Nicke Kabamba had a player who for a while looked like he could be a potential danger with the possibility of his pace getting the better of Dickie and his defensive colleagues.

We did make a few defence splitting passes, which on reflection hinted that the Poolies were there for the taking if we got our act together at any stage. I think Moore may have played a couple of those and he was one of our better players before the break.

Our best shot came from Hall but was just wide. Other than that he’d done more, again, to suggest he is not good enough for where we’re now at. We had one break when the ball was played ahead of him on the right in acres of space. A decent attack looked on but firstly he wasn’t that quick in getting to the ball however that should I suppose be overlooked as he did get there. Next though he just dribbled straight at and into an opponent and possession was lost although colleagues were available to be passed to.

Lots of things were not happening as we wish. Our captain for the day, Tariq Fosu, was too greedy. Dickie was looking a lot more dickie than he usually does. Sam Long’s balls into the box were either poor or not being read by anyone and Jamie Mackie was having almost zero influence on proceedings.

There was a lot to ponder at half time.

I was thinking that we were lacking genuine leaders and influencers and therefore really missing Mous, James Henry and Cameron Brannagan.

It also very much felt like the norm of the old days at the Kassam had returned where half time pisses had been preceded by fairly mediocre fare and there wasn’t much hope of a turnaround.

My concern was our lack of goals in recent games. We needed more than one to win and a bloody trip to the North East for a replay on Tuesday week certainly didn’t have me thinking what a great night out that will be. “Oxford’s a shit hole, I want to go home”, sang the Hartlepool fans.  Well, none of us are stopping you, please feel free to set off on your return journey whenever you wish. And when you get back take a look around. Just banter, ain’t it? By the way if we had ended up drawing I would have been there for the re-match and hopefully been able to reacquaint myself with the Rat Race Ale House.

The worry my mate had was more that we’d let in a second than not got at least one goal ourselves. I had a bit more faith in our back line than that and to be fair to them, after the balls up they never looked anything other than solid. Confidence was not knocked and we just continued to play as we had.

On 50 minutes I pessimistically commented that five minutes of the second half had passed and we were still behind. I need to have the lesson of patience drummed into me. We had begun part two in improved fashion, playing quicker and chances were coming. I should have relaxed knowing there was still a long time to go.

Two minutes later we were level. Long and Mark Sykes worked the ball to Hall down the right. Hall beat his man by moving to the left and then hit a superb shot that curled round a couple of players, including the ducking Jamie Mackie, and past the diving Mitchell Beeney.

I now began to feel guilty about my earlier thoughts on our goal scorer and have to say that not only did he go from not that far off zero (unfair anyway of course) but also to absolute hero. It wasn’t only that though, he was having a great impact on the game and suddenly became a contender for man of the match.

Our football began to flow and not just in a keeping the ball kind of way. We were getting into and through the Hartlepool defence in a threatening manner.

Another contender for man of the match must be Long. He was involved in much of what was happening and whilst I’ve always admired his defensive qualities and energy perhaps until now had overlooked his technical ability. Time and again the ball was banged to him from distance and with one touch he had it under control and when he received possession from closer range his first touch was taking him past an opponent. I was mightily impressed.

But okay, yes there’s one man who stands out that bit more than the others – Shandon Baptiste. What a rare talent this young man is. Plenty can do something exceptional once in a blue moon but this guy is beginning to produce something very special on a more regular basis. In my head his current value is £5m minimum. (And you wouldn’t believe the sell on clause I’m thinking of).

Before his wonder goal he’d gone past a few people and had given the blue shirts a warning of what he could unleash. On one occasion the only way he could be stopped was by a foul but when he gets into the box that option is very risky.

Less than a quarter of an hour after the equaliser he wove his magic and it became safe to ink over the pencilled in fixture against Ipswich on Tues 14 January.

Although it will be remembered for individual brilliance we should not overlook the fact that the ball arrived at SB’s feet after a few passes. Taylor, to Hall, to Fosu before Shandon ran onto the next pass.  It was one of those where his speed got him past an opponent who hadn’t anticipated in the same way and was waiting for the ball. Sprinting into the box he dragged the ball with him getting between and beyond two defenders. He then produced a little dummy, still at speed, leaving Raynesy on his arse, before completing a goal to drool over. Someone in the SSU got so excited they leapt up whilst Baptiste was doing his thing, slightly obscuring my view. That’s not something that normally happens in this relatively sedate area of the grounds where us old ‘uns reside.

Hartlepool didn’t look that much like getting themselves back in it but there’s always that tiny possibility that at just a goal behind they would. More likely though that if they went for it we would get more and that is what happened when they made an attacking substitution on 83 minutes when Raynes was replaced by midfielder Luke Molyneux.

A minute later we got our third. This was another flowing move. The reliable Gorrin nicked the ball to Long whose forward pass to sub Matty Taylor was neatly back heeled into the path of another replacement, young Fabio Lopes. The just turned 18 year old’s first touch after his introduction had been a sweetly struck shot which Beeney saved. This time, excitement probably getting the better of him, he didn’t time the swinging of his leg correctly at all and didn’t achieve either glory or the working of the keeper. The skewed effort though was a perfect pass giving our captain for the day, Fosu, a tap in once he had run on to it.

Game over and soon after the margin between the two sides had increased even further. Our third sub was involved in this one. In the short space of time Dan Agyei was on the field he slotted in really well, joining in the passing game as if he’d been part of it all from the start. There was a neat flick here, a bit of strength there and me thinking yes we have got a player who could contribute. The caveat being that the quality of the opposition has to be taken into consideration.

Agyei’s pass picked out Fosu and he rolled the ball behind him with his studs to Sykes. By now with the cohesion of the Hartlepool back line having somewhat disappeared we were getting many men goal side of their defenders.  That’s what happened with Sykes and Kitching and a tiny tangle resulted in our man going down and referee Michael Salisbury pointing to the spot.

Photo, Simon Jaggs

With our usual penalty taker not involved there was a mass gathering where one can assume each player who wanted the responsibility (not much pressure at 3-1 up) and chance to add to their goal tally was putting their case. I think what then happened was that they looked over to the bench for guidance and after a signal from Mous it was Taylor who stepped up. He fair leathered it home and was still obviously very pleased to have done so. Goal scorers like scoring goals in any circumstances.

A few minutes later it was all over and we were £135k better off plus of course our share of the gate money.

I’ve heard comment that the final score line flattered us, particularly as our final two goals only came at the end. On our first half showing I would possibly agree but taking account of how well we played in the second and the chances we created, I’d say no it didn’t. We had 65% possession and nine of our 20 shots were on target.

I’d definitely called the attendance incorrectly. 6,240 was way more than I was expecting so well done to the Oxford public, including fans who travel to the shire from afar, and also the 779 who came down from the NE. They never stopped supporting their side even when they fell behind and the game was up as goals three and four went in.

I would question why the new traffic management was needed in these circumstances though, particularly the ludicrous blocking of the roundabouts. The general public and those using the Science Park should not be forced to comply with such pre-match bollox where all they then do is contribute to extra traffic near the ground. What is this costing the club?

Before I sign off for a whole week, which makes a pleasant change, mention must be made of the 15:01 kick-off. That minute gave time for reflection which is something we should all do from time to time in this busy, frantic, mixed up world in which we live.  My thoughts were of Gary Speed and Clarke Carlisle plus many others. And also naturally with the families of those Yellows who passed away in 2019 and whose names came up on the scoreboard. Gone but never to be forgotten. John Shuker (I was worried in the 77th minute when we were giving our minute of applause that Hartlepool might score because they were doing a bit of attacking at the time, but Shukes kept them out), Jim Smith, Womble and Mr Kirby (98) who I mentioned last season but will always remember him as one of the people who first took me to the Manor when I was a kid who obviously couldn’t drive and didn’t have enough money for the bus fare to Oxford.

May the 2020 version of OUFC be one that makes those looking down on the club very proud to have been a part of it all during their time supporting, playing and managing.

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