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The Great Escape

Hartlepool United 0-1 Kidderminster Harriers (National League)

Storm Jocelyn is heading east. We've already had Isha after a firm week of ice cold temperatures had me moved from York to Ilkeston on Saturday, by the time I had already set off and reached Pontefract I was told to come back home, today I'm concerned that going to Hartlepool in 'amber warning' winds might be a journey that has similar outcome.


No news is good news though and none appears to say the match is in doubt, in fact the news around these parts is that Kevin Phillips, remember him? Well he's just gone and got the Hartlepool job whilst Phil Brown, remember him? Another ghost of Premier League past, well he made his debut in the Kidderminster dugout on Saturday.


Bottom of the table Harriers won that match v Aldershot 4-2 and Hartlepool will be looking for a similar outcome with their new man at the helm, they actually beat Eastleigh at the weekend and sit thirteenth in the division ahead of kick off. Two teams in form with new bosses of pedigree to whet the appetite.


It's a good three-hour drive is Hartlepool so I'm on the road for 3pm heading up the M1 and A1 before coming off for the A168 (A19) and Thirsk, the traffic picks up in Middlesbrough as I pass the oddly attractive Tees Newport Bridge which is all lit up in blue before reaching Hartlepool for shortly after 6pm, it's cold, dark, wet, and there’s not much happening around on Stockton Street.

The Venue


I've pulled up on Lancaster Street and walk across the Middleton Road (which takes you down to the docks) and down Clarence Road where stewards are putting up road closed signs. Floodlights in the background, the classic old fashioned type, huge pylons lighting the skies above industrial roofs, I'm in at reception in a building which looks like an old barn, where I ask for my ticket, I'm handed a white paper envelope by a chap with a southern accent and am told to walk around the back of the stand where a steward will let me in.


I'm walking through the club car park behind the Rink End as the rain lashes down, the wind howling as I knock on the gate and shout 'take me somewhere warm'.


The steward points me to the back of the stand where the press area runs the length of the pitch, a cracking view unrestricted and set back, elevated, there's a couple of Kidderminster players running out in the rain as I take a look around and at the lush surface below in really good nick. No concerns about the pitch quality, the only concerns are the heavens above.


There’s a couple of flag poles to my left in the corner of the ground, they’re making a rattle as the wind roars and rain clatters the back of the stand, it’s a cracking place to play football, the stand I’m in feels like something you’ll see at a race course, seated at the top it runs parallel with the pitch, standing room only at the bottom, behind each goal has low roofed stands, terraced to my right, seated to my left, opposite the Cyril Knowles Stand has blue and white seating with the letters HUFC carved out of them.

The Game


The rain has calmed before kick off, the stadium under half full, 55 have made the long journey up from Kidderminster and as the match starts at a canter, I’ve a feeling the whisking, whirling wind will seriously ruin this one. I’ve not had a nil nil on my travels all season, will tonight be the first? I’m predicting it probably will.


Kiddy are set up to frustrate, they take their time with set plays and are awkward but combative, playing the typical away day ‘defend and break’ with some no nonsense football which is very much ‘playing to the conditions’ which hardly allow for anything else.


Hartlepool in fairness try to knock it about a bit, but too many sloppy passes go astray, the crowd already on their players backs and there’s not yet ten minutes gone. It’s a hostile place is this and they don’t like sideways football the locals? A proper working mans football club, the fans here chat to another before the match, they all seem to know each other and it’s more than just another match, I think they actually like to moan and come to football just to do that, but it rubs off on the away side who grow in confidence as the United energy saps with every mistake made. ‘Rubbish, ‘Shit, Gerrit forward’ are frequent cries from below.


On 33 Hartlepool do get it forward and Duffus running through is dragged down inside the area, the Referee probably should award a penalty and red card but gives neither to provoke more disgruntlement and outrage with the home support, they’re fuming with the verdict as Kiddy play on. Boos eventually filtering out loudly towards the North Sea.


The Score


Other than that huge penalty incident the first half has nothing doing but for a couple of half sniffs at each end, Kidderminster I feel will be happier as I chomp on a half eaten bar of Tony’s Chocolate and finish my second pack of Mentos which I brought at Ilkeston on Saturday.


Before I know it the second half is underway and Kidderminster continue to frustrate, the elegant Mancini who dictated the Hartlepool play in the first half has no real options in front of him, he’s trying hard as is left winger Joe Grey to make things happen but it’s too often slow, pedestrian, predictable, as the Harriers defence cope well with everything played in front of them.


By now the wind is playing havoc, goal kicks from one end are going straight out of play at the other, whilst some are curling back to where they came from, it’s been a real task just placing the ball down and it’s more often out than in play, but every time a player get’s it wide I’m shouting ‘put it in the box’ as something is bound to give.


On 66 Ashley Hemmings does just that. He’s been brilliant down the right and has been the one forward playing Kidderminster star trying to make things happen. He’s curled it in on his left foot as sub Amari Morgan-Smith tries to nod home, the ball evades the striker and whips into the bottom right corner, there’s confusion as the PA and everybody else, credits the goal to Morgan-Smith, I have it down as Hemmings goal, wind assist.


That goal leads to the inevitable frustration inside the ground, the home support are back on the players backs, 'You're Shit' one shouts as Parkes slices the ball out of play, some say it’s boiled over frustration for a pending take over that is seemingly never going to happen, but I feel this just a Hartlepool thing. If I bring a side here, I would play off it, and I reckon by setting up to frustrate, that my side would get something, more often than not, tonight Phil Brown shown all his years of managerial experience to influence a deserved win for the better side on the night, it was basic football and hardly enthralling, they don't care. Kiddy off the bottom and now four points from safety. Is the great escape very much on? If Brown pulls this one off, it could be his greatest achievement of all?


The Stars


Young French number eight Anthony Mancini despite being on the losing side, took my eye as the one player that oozes real class. A part eight, part ten, he’s a midfield playmaking hybrid type who’s an inverted winger who likes to come inside, float about and get on the ball in pockets, his biggest issue on the night, he had nobody of any quality in front of him, centre forward Duffus lacked pace and movement, whilst no one from midfield was that bothered about getting beyond the ball.


Joe Grey looked like he had ability on the left and linked well at times with Mancini, Kieran Wallace who’s a highly experienced player, had a night to forget, Tom Crawford similarly who’s silky on the ball, at times, was too often terrible, at others, he frustrated from a wider position than usual, Nicky Featherstone did play his 400th game for Pools but it certainly wasn’t one to remember.


For Kidderminster, Ashley Hemmings was direct, cutting in from the right wing and is in some goalscoring form of late, whilst defensively they were superb. Centre halves Penny & McNally in particular coping with the conditions and enjoying their roles to kick, hook and head everything away, Caleb Richards, a left back who was asked to play a more inverted defensive role, showing he can adjust when asked, a player still only 25 who should be playing higher than he currently is.


The Verdict


Will Phil Brown achieve the impossible with Kidderminster Harriers, having won two out of two he certainly gives his side a chance. It’s an ambitious appointment and one that I can only see working in the Worcestershire sides favour.


Whether Kevin Phillips will have the same effect on Hartlepool I don’t know? I think there’s more underlying issues at this club that need resolving, and personally think the Manager is on a hiding to nothing. Currently sat thirteenth they are too good to go down, but they are seven points off relegation, and seven points off the playoffs, in the midst of no mans land.. Which incidentally, is where I’m heading off to next, as I brave the wind and rain during my three hour journey home.


The Teams

Hartlepool United: Joel Dixon, David Ferguson, Manny Onariase, Luke Hendrie, Tom Parkes, Nicky Featherstone, Kieran Wallace (Louis Stephenson 77), Anthony Mancini, Joe Grey (Christopher Wreh 80), Tom Crawford, Courtney Duffus (Callum Cooke 69).

Kidderminster Harriers: Christian Dibble, Alex Penny, Matt Preston, Reiss McNally, Caleb Richards, Sam Bellis, Zak Brown, Shayne Byrne, Jack Lambert (Owen Hesketh 76), Ashley Hemmings (Christian Oxlade Chamberlain 88), Gold Omotayo (Amari Morgan-Smith 60).

7:45pm Kick Off. Tuesday 23rd January 2024. Victoria Park, Hartlepool (att 3,289).

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