Hartlepool managed an impressive 1-0 win over Dagenham and Redbridge last Saturday, their third win in a row.
They line up in a 4-3-3 with Nicky Featherstone dropping deep to hold in midfield. As their wide strikers are diligent when tracking back once possession is lost, their shape shifts naturally to a 4-1-4-1 when they lose the ball.
However, this can sometimes make it easier for the opposition to begin a move, allowing them time to pass the ball out from the back, as the wide men drop into midfield. However, when the ball comes into midfield, the other two central midfielders, given the security of Featherstone behind them, get on the front foot to press in the middle of the pitch. Both Michael Woods and Lewis Hawkins are mobile and combative, capable of closing space quickly and stopping the opposition from passing through them.
Featherstone can be an ambitious passer who often looks to open play up from deeper positions. He is happy to look to switch play to open up space for his full backs as they look to go forward, although neither is overly ambitious in overlapping. Surprisingly, Nicky Deverdics is the more conservative full back, considering he has played a lot of his career in midfield. On the right, Carl Magnay pushes on a little more and is capable of using both feet to cross.
Up front, with Jake Cassidy out due to a long term injury, Craig Harrison has gone for a similar option. Connor Simpson is a target man who is strong in the air, as United are happy to try to vary their approach, sometime passing through the thirds and sometimes going more direct.
The wide strikers often tuck in immediately after possession is lost in the opposing half, trying to cut off passing channels as they retreat, and if the ball is lost early by the opposition playing a direct ball, this leaves them close enough to Simpson to look to pick up flicks and second balls.
Simpson took a heavy knock at the start of the second half and had to go off. He was replaced by Rhys Oates, who was physical but less strong in the air.
Jonathan Franks, the left-sided striker, is a threat. Fast and predominantly right-footed, he can look to get round the full back on either side, and scored an excellent opportunistic goal to win Saturday’s match.
Devante Rodney on the right is also quick, is less adept than Franks when looking to penetrate. However, he is diligent when dropping back to support his midfield when possession is lost, and relishes making challenges in the opposing half. Early in the second half against Dagenham he launched into a series of hard tackles, needed brief treatment for cramp, and there was an air of inevitability about his substitution half way through the period.
Defensively, Hartlepool are strong at set pieces, dealing with aerial balls comfortably. Dagenham appeared to target the space behind left-sided centre back Michael Ledger, forcing him to turn and chase back on a number of occasions. Behind the back four, Scott Loach is an imposing presence and a genuinely impressive shot-stopper.