This was the kind of convincing win that Hartlepool United had been waiting for since last season.
A win that oozed confidence and purpose, a kind of victory that we haven’t seen from a Hartlepool side for several painful months.
It was a game that ticked a cliche’s statement. If you press the ball, you win the ball. Pools pressed from the front and disposed Portsmouth of the ball on quite a few occasions. If you pass the ball, you keep the ball. On the whole, when Pools passed the ball they kept it with a purpose of going forward. And, as the long suffering fans have been saying for months, if you play the kids, you will have a new lease of life. Indeed, there was a sense of urgency from a youthful Pools, a willingness to win.
James Poole, so stagnated in his performances for the entirety of 2012, was reinvigorated. He dazzled. He seized his opportunity at starting on the left of a three man attack and was in imperious form. His goal, to double Pools’ advantage at his re-start, will have gave the former Man City youngster a new dose of much needed belief. It was a cool, unerring finish that was capped with a kiss and a thanks to the stars.
There were equally impressive performances from Jono Franks on the opposite flank. Simon Walton, bar from a horrid ten minutes in the opening interval where he over hit passes at will, controlled midfield proceedings. He was capably backed up by the composed Ritchie Humphreys. At present, Humphreys is rolling back the years; he is revelling in his occupation as a sitting midfielder. Tucked in behind Poole, Evan Horwood turned in a man of the match performance. Whereas his defensive frailties often overshadow his attacking prowess, at Fratton Park Horwood dealt with fellow Hartlepool-born player Adam Reed with ease. It was testimony to Horwood that the vast majority of Pompey’s threats emanated from the left, Neil Austin territory. Going forward was where Horwood was at his best. His crossing and link up play was the source of much of Pools’ attacks.
Despite the positives, let’s not mask over the obvious dangers of extolling the marooned men. When the hosts did attack with pace the alarming gap between Peter Hartley and Sam Collins was unravelled. Thankfully, it wasn’t exposed, but against opponents of higher calibre the duo will be exploited. Neil Austin was pedestrian for much of the encounter and Pools still lack a goalscorer who would not just provide a finish to the crosses, but provide a presence. Even when Pools did attack so well down the flanks, there was still only one, sometimes two, men in the box. But then that didn’t matter when Pools seized their chances from set-pieces and one-on-ones.
Jack Baldwin opened the scoring with a header after a deep Horwood free kick. If it hadn’t been for the agility of netminder Scott Flinders, though, Baldwin’s goal could have been an equaliser or even a deficit-reducing strike.
Shaun Cooper first tested Flinders from distance before Dan Butler aimed a whistling shot at the top corner, only for Flinders to deny the strike. Flinders was keeping Pools in the game so early on, saving superbly with a pair of brilliant saves in quick succession to prevent first Darel Russell and second the nuisance David Connolly.
Baldwin, however, took advantage at his sight of goal and Pools worked hard to preserve their lead. Collins and teenage Baldwin both slid in to block the ball, Austin cleared frantically and Flinders was again in top form.
It wasn’t just 23rd placed Pompey crafting the chances. Poole coaxed numerous fouls out of his marksmen, Humphreys and Walton sprayed the ball round to push forward attacks, and both Walton and Horwood had chances from distance.
With only seconds on the clock in the second half, Pompey failed to nullify a blistering Pools attack, yet Franks’ centre was sent narrowly over by Poole. Minutes later Wyke flicked the ball on to Poole who scored to double the lead
This was now the test for Pools. So often this season they have succumbed to the pressure of leading, unable to do the basics of defending and allowing their opponents a simple route back into the game.
Pompey came forward. Pools remained obdurate. A stubborn line of 9 refused to allow the marching blue calvary through. James Keene hit wide from 20 yards. Butler sent a fizzing ball across the box that was unmet. Eventually they were breached, via a cross from the left that evaded all in the box before Jed Wallace side-footed home. Fratton Park was aroused, the South Coast roar threatened to lift the Fratton End’s roof off its screws.
Pools suppressed Pompey, though, and sub Luke James added pace and pressure into the Pools attack. Wyke dashed forward with Poole to his right but went himself before the attack petered out. It needn’t have mattered, sub Greg Rutherford came on and settled the nerves with his first senior goal after slotting beyond Pompey keeper Eastwood.
18 games remain, another 12 victories like this would do just nicely.
You can find me on Twitter @cmbell310 for more Pool chat.