90 minutes separates City from a potential match against one of the game’s giants, with the visit of an old friend currently languishing in non-league standing in the way. Goals have remained hard to come by, but a hard-fought 1-0 win at Crawley last Saturday ensures City go into the visit of Hartlepool in good spirit. Alex Fisher missed the trip to Crawley with a slight niggle but is expected to be back on Sunday aiming to continue his FA Cup form which saw him notch both goals in the ties with Cambridge, his first goals for the club. Jake Taylor’s return from suspension saw the club captain benched, but he may also return to the starting line-up. One player edging into contention may be Gary Warren, who returned off the bench from injury to score the winner in the U23 Cup win over Doncaster in midweek as he continues his rehabilitation, but Nicky Ajose, Lee Holmes and Lewis Ward remain sidelined.
It’s fair to say it has been a turbulent time recently for Hartlepool. Fortunes declined from being in League One to hovering above the League Two drop zone before finally dropping in 2016/17. Off-field issues contrived to ensure there would be no chance of a swift return, Pools finishing in the lower reaches of the table in both their first two seasons having flirted for a while with relegation. Indifferent form this season saw the departure of Craig Hignett, with Dave Challinor (he of the long throw) taking the reins a couple of weeks back. He is so far unbeaten, most recently a 5-1 demolition of Chesterfield on Tuesday night, meaning his side makes the long journey on Sunday in confident mood. To get to this stage Pools defeated Brackley 1-0 then caused something of a shock in winning 4-1 at Yeovil in a delayed First Round match. Key to their recent upturn is Gime Toure, top scorer with 11 in all competitions, while the likes of Nicky Featherstone and Ryan Donaldson provide experience in midfield. One player who definitely won’t feature is Myles Anderson, a player who made a solitary substitute appearance in City colours in 2013 and who has recently joined Aldershot on loan.
Sunday marks the first FA Cup tie between the sides, but of course City and Hartlepool were regular opponents in the Football League. Despite their relegation it was Pools who took the honours in 2016/17. They visited the Park during City’s torrid start in August and won 2-1 – McAlinden gave City the lead before two goals in two second half minutes from Woods and Paynter secured the points. The win was more emphatic at Victoria Park – again City led 1-0 at half time through Watkins, before a brace from Alessandra and a goal from Amond gave Hartlepool a 3-1 win. City have the overall head-to-head lead, however, with 34 wins to Hartlepool’s 26 (22 draws). The last 39 encounters between the two clubs can be found at https://www.grecians.co.uk/wordpress/?p=10394
The match officials for this game are:-
Referee: Josh Smith
Assistant Referee: Richard Morris and John Flynn
Fourth Official: Christopher Wade
Josh Smith is in his second season as a Football League referee