Football: Bodge betrays Hodge: Derek Hodgson sees Hartlepool suffer a setback against Swansea's superior skills

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The Independent Online
Hartlepool, according to the PA announcer at Ayresome Park, are the second-best team in the North-east. Armed with this claim and seeing the possibility of Hartlepool going top of the Second Division for the first time in their history, the Victoria Ground on Saturday was packed.

On a glorious day, the North Sea a glittering dark blue, there were 4,000 spectators, seven photographers, a television crew and the press-box was so full that the reporter from the Hartlepool Mail had no seat. It was, alas, all too much and Swansea took the points after a 1-0 win.

As the Hartlepool manager, Alan Murray, said: 'We were second best in every department. If I could tell you exactly why, I would be worth a lot of money. It has to be a one-off performance. If it isn't then they are telling me they cannot perform under pressure.'

This was Hartlepool's second defeat and there was one legitimate excuse: the absence of Dean Emerson, the former Coventry midfielder. He had been an ever- present in the side, but on Friday morning he turned an ankle in training. His duties were shared by Paul Wratten, making his debut, and Nicky Southall.

So Swansea, in sixth place before the match, scored an important victory and on this evidence look the team more likely to be promoted. On a sticky and uneven surface their blend of youth and experience provided superior football long before the winning goal and Hartlepool would have fallen behind earlier but for Martin Hodge, their goalkeeper.

He is a captain who leads by example; when he conceded a free- kick 10 yards out, on the angle, he formed part of the wall and had three men posted on his goal-line; when Hartlepool had a free-kick near the box, their last chance of a point, he joined the attackers in the Swansea penalty area.

The player who caught the eye was Swansea's Andrew Legg, a quick, two-footed natural opportunist. He finds space inside the box, has a prodigious throw - 'he put us under pressure from all sides,' Murray said - and at 26 looks more than ready for a place in the Premier League.

Legg and Mark Harris, whose positional play was exemplary, were a class above Hartlepool's best, so it was appropriate that the latter should head the goal from the former's corner. It followed a mistake of heroic proportions on Hartlepool's part as Hodge missed his punch and Harris was left unmarked.

It was not until three minutes from time, when Paul Proudlock fired just wide, that Hartlepool created a real scoring chance. However, a setback need not be a disaster and Hartlepool look a busy side, with a sense of purpose. Maybe this test came a few weeks too soon.

Goal: Harris (59) 0-1.

Hartlepool United: Hodge; R Cross, P Cross, Tait, Proudlock, Wratten (Southall, 61), Johnrose, Olsson, Saville, Nobbs, Honour. Substitute not used: McGuckin.

Swansea City: Freestone; Lyttle, Ford, Walker, Harris, Coughlin, Cullen (Bowen, 79) Pascoe, West, Cornforth, Legg. Substitute not used: Jenkins.

Referee: D B Allison (Lancaster).

(Photograph omitted)

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