Paul Hartley and his side had an opening weekend to forget at Walsall, with Pools second best throughout their 4-0 humiliation at Bescot Stadium.
It left the feeling ahead of the Wimbledon encounter a little undecided, with many unsure of what to expect.
Still, Pools came out fighting and was a bit unhappy not to walk away with all three points on his return to the Suit Direct Stadium.
Flexible in systems
The first thing that immediately jumped out at you was Hartley’s team selection.
The Pools boss had suggested he wouldn’t be subject to a knee-jerk reaction after the defeat at Walsall, telling the Mail: “It’s easy to do that. But I still believe we have a good group of players here.
And Hartley kept his word, in essence, by resorting to just two changes from the opening day loss with full-back Jamie Sterry and on-loan Saddlers defender Rollin Menayese in place of Reghan Tumilty and Ellis Taylor.
But the big change, however, came in the formation with Hartley ditching the 4-2-3-1 approach for a 3-4-2-1 system.
Menayese joined Euan Murray and Alex Lacey at centre-back with Sterry and David Ferguson advancing in a midfield role alongside Nicky Featherstone and Mouhamed Niang.
Callum Cooke and Jake Hastie have played tighter No.10 roles while still looking to attack half-spaces beyond lone striker Josh Umerah.
And while much of that decision could be attributed to the threat posed by Wimbledon, particularly wing-back Jack Currie who got on the scoresheet against Gillingham in their opener there at one week, that’s a significant change from what we’ve seen in pre-season pool starting compositions.
But, credit where needed, the system suited Pools.
The three centre-backs seemed comfortable alongside each other and getting the ball out from behind.
Sterry and Ferguson, as has become the norm, operated fluidly down the flanks depending on Pools’ possession while Cooke, in particular, enjoyed a positive afternoon in a more forward role in the frame. of one two.
Hartley admitted he likes to use a back three, but struggled to do so in pre-season due to lack of numbers or injuries.
But despite relatively little evidence of the system, things worked out pretty well for Pools.
This is definitely a positive as it means pools can house more than one system in their arsenal and be flexible throughout the season in games.
Gone are the days of regular four flat backs. Teams need to be flexible in their approach to different plays and different threats, with three centre-backs becoming increasingly popular among teams.
In the 12 Ligue 2 fixtures this weekend, 14 teams, including the Pools, went with three centre-backs, alone or as part of a back-five. It is therefore important that Pools can use this system if they want to tactically adapt to their opponents.
As with systems development, the tactical ploy of a high press is also far more conventional and is something Pools has again shown encouraging signs of.
Immediately after kick-off, Pools forced Wimbledon into his own right-back area, with Umerah setting up a physical marker.
Alongside Umerah, Hastie and Cooke helped fend off the Dons early on with Nik Tzanev forced into a number of rushing clearances that provided a turnover in play.
The key for hens is being able to maintain that kind of focus and discipline for extended periods of play.
Play risk and reward
Hartley’s philosophy of playing at the back has been on display throughout pre-season, but with three centre-backs it has become even more evident.
Yet with this comes an element of risk.
Each of Menayese, Lacey and Murray all had moments in the first half where they were almost caught trying to play from behind or misplaced a pass that could have caused problems.
Conversely however, all three launched several attacks with Lacey and Menayese in particular advancing with the ball at their feet, while Murray made a number of progressive passes in the final third.
It’s a good weapon for pools, and is expected to improve as their synergy develops.
Umerah is a beast of burden
He may not have found the back of the net yet, but there’s no denying Umerah’s effort.
The striker was arguably the only outfield player to leave Bescot Stadium a week ago near expected levels and he continued that against Wimbledon.
Facing Will Nightingale and Alex Pearce, Umerah had another tough physical fight and gave his best.
His strength allows him to hold his own well and make others play, and he makes smart runs in the channels.
But for a nice save from Tzanev he would have celebrated his first goal, but he will not be far from it if he continues in the same way.
Maybe Walsall was a blip
The phrase of the week was “it’s a match”, after the Walsall defeat. And Pools showed it against Wimbledon.
Is there more to come? Sure. But it was important to draw a line under this defeat of the first day and to be able to renew optimism.
This is an almost entirely new team and it will take time to settle in and gel steadily. But the goalless draw with Wimbledon at least offered signs of encouragement and suggests that, perhaps, Walsall’s loss can be called a bad day at the office.