CITY 1 HARTLEPOOL 1
IT might have been the last knockings of pre-season but there was nothing friendly about the ear-bashing City took at half-time.
Phil Parkinson had watched a tepid opening 45 minutes from a more detached vantage point in the Valley Parade press box.
What he witnessed was a lethargic, almost half-hearted knockabout from a team with an eye firmly fixed on the upcoming real action against Coventry.
Such an attitude was maybe understandable given the fear every player shares at this stage about picking up a late injury – and given the compactness of the current squad at his disposal that would have been a critical blow.
But for a boss who regards work ethic as the most important ingredient of any team, it was inexcusable. And, friendly or no friendly, he wasn’t having any of it.
So by the time referee Eddie Ilderton blew his whistle, Parkinson had already flown down the stairs to the dressing room where he made his displeasure very plain.
“I wasn’t happy at all,” he said. “It was too slow and there weren’t enough players on the front foot.
“We’ve got a lot of new players learning about each other but we had too many prepared to sit behind the ball. You’re never going to create anything playing that way.
“The second half was ten times better. There was more energy, more people prepared to run, more prepared to snap into challenges, more desire and commitment.
“It doesn’t matter what system you play at all. Whatever you do, it’s how you implement it.”
His half-time rant also included a reminder that those players needed to show that they were worth the shirts for this week’s League One kick-off.
Unfortunately, because of the small number in reserve, most of those involved do pick themselves. The side that lined up on Saturday is pretty certain to be the same one that aims to show Steven Pressley that the so-called “dark age” football has been consigned to the past.
But the manager’s message did hit home and a bored Valley Parade audience were finally brought to life by a more involved effort from their team.
Up to that point, the game’s only eye-catching aspect had been Hartlepool’s hideous salmon pink and black away kit which looked like a cross between training bibs and motorway hi-viz jackets.
But with ears and backsides no doubt still stinging, the extra zip in City’s play was evident within minutes of the restart.
Colin Cooper’s Hartlepool found themselves pressed back for long periods – although the worry still remains that for all the attractive build-up, there is not sufficient cutting edge to reward it.
James Hanson won his usual lion's share of the knockdowns but did not have a shot to his name. Without a goal in pre-season, City will hope he has saved up his tally for when it really counts.
Billy Clarke was once again alongside him with the continued absence of Aaron Mclean – who was at least involved on the pitch in some morning shooting practice with head physio Matt Barrass.
It was Clarke who got City’s first Valley Parade goal since April, though ironically he had just dropped back into the number ten “hole” from a more advanced position when he ghosted on to the end of Hanson’s flick-on to drive past Scott Flinders.
He had made some intelligent runs in the first half without finding the room to hurt the League Two defence.
Mark Yeates, who looked to get involved throughout, volleyed wide from another Hanson set-up but the best City could muster in that dour opening period came from Andrew Davies. His header, which seemed to scuff off Rory McArdle, was bundled away from in front the Hartlepool line.
Jack Compton and Matthew Bates were both back at Valley Parade and the winger who flickered briefly during Peter Jackson’s reign did go close with a free-kick that curled round the post.
For Bates, who remarkably never played in a winning City side at home last season, it threatened to be a cathartic afternoon.
One sliced pass straight into touch aside, which drew ironic cheers, the defender looked to have a decent day – especially when he threw himself in the way of Clarke with a goal-saving challenge midway through the second half.
City had upped the ante by that stage, with Flinders diving to his left to deny the former Crawley man.
“Hold it, look after it,” bawled Gary Liddle as the Bantams finally threatened to discover an end product for their midfield triangles.
Jordan Pickford produced a good save when Bradley Walker’s drive took a deflection off Davies but it still came as a shock when it was Hartlepool who broke the deadlock, Walker again finding room to drill low and hard from the edge of the box.
Oliver McBurnie’s recent arrival pushed Clarke back into the role at the tip of the diamond but he immediately stole in to convert the equaliser after Hanson helped on Alan Sheehan’s cross.
The bench featured six trialists, including former Barnsley stalwart Bobby Hassell. Only two of them got on, Mo Shariff and Christopher Routis, but both made their mark in a lively finale.
Shariff’s first touch was a fizzing 25-yarder which warmed the hands of Flinders and another spectacular dipping effort was tipped on to the bar by the keeper.
That was the second time City were foiled by the Kop woodwork as minutes before a cross had brushed off the head of the luckless Bates and pinged away.
His Valley Parade duck could still have been broken in the dying moments when the ball broke to Marlon Harewood in a promising shooting position by the City box. But Routis hurled his body in line to smother the danger.
CITY: Pickford, Darby, McArdle (Routis 69), Davies, Sheehan, Liddle, Dolan (Kennedy 76), Knott (Meredith 76), Yeates (McBurnie 69), Hanson, Clarke (Shariff 86). Subs (not used): Coulson, Hassell, Campion, Heaton, Urwin.
HARTLEPOOL: Flinders, Duckworth, Austin, Miller, Collins (Holden 18), Bates, Parnaby (Richards 72), Walker, Harewood, James, Compton (Franks 67). Subs (not used): Rowbotham, Nearney, Hawkins, Smith, Jones, Rafferty.