Improved Hartlepool Grab First Win
Just what the doctor ordered, the doctor being Hartlepool United manager Neale Cooper.
After a miserable opening month for Pools and a double dosing of lambasted performances, Cooper’s men finally got their season up and running with a convincing 2-0 victory over Scunthorpe. It could have even been three if Steve Howard’s spot kick wasn’t repelled by Scunny keeper Slocombe.
In the end, the missed penalty – awarded when Josh Walker dramatically handballed when mimicking Luis Suaraz’s famed unlawful intervention on the goaline – didn’t matter. Jonathon Franks had opened the scoring with a cool, side-footed finish in the first half and Luke James spared Howard’s blushes with a well taken goal soon after.
This was a performance from the hosts that ticked the instruction boxes set to them by Cooper. Peter Hartley returned to his colossal, commanding figure at the back, Paul Murray – back in the side at the expense of Simon Walton – proved his recall was worthy with a show of continuity passing and an ever-present human barricade in the middle.
Man of the match Antony Sweeney saw his bursting runs rewarded once and for all by seeing large parts of possession, while Franks and fellow winger Andy Monkhouse jinxed, crossed and earned themselves respectable merit marks.
Admittedly, though, this wasn’t a stellar performance. There were the odd criminal concessions of possession by Neil Austin, and Murray demonstrated the lack of cohesion between midfield and strike force with his own slack, aimless passes at times. But they did enough against a Scunthorpe side that continue to prop up the league – and you can see why they find themselves at the foot of the table. Austin, Hartley, Collins and Murray all came dupes of Mark Duffy’s twinkling feet, but the forward never capitalised on his moves. It was all The Iron had up their sleeve.
Evan Horwood registered the first note-takings with a sweetly hit free kick that evaded the wall, the keeper and the post – just. Sweeney’s runs being the defence worried the visitors’ back line, his pestering forcing a corner. He soon went close with an outside-of-the-box strike, yet it wouldn’t be long before Pools finally got goal number one of the season.
Horwood, Monkhouse and Sweeney all interchanged quickly, the ball sweeping across the box to find an unmarked Franks on hand to finish. The relief was palpable, 293 minutes without a goal had come to an end.
It wasn’t to mark a goal spree, though. Instead, Scunny set up a camp in the Pools half. They didn’t, however, unease a defence that hasn’t been without its sceptics this season. The closest Scunny coming before the interval when Niall Canavan’s cleverly worked shot cannoned off the bar from a corner.
David Prutton could and probably should have, drawn parity when he missed from yards out in front of a gaping goal void of goalkeeper Scott Flinders who chased after a bobbling ball.
But Pools were in no mood to relinquish their slender lead. James Poole had worked tirelessly running in behind Howard, but to no avail in the first half. His like-for-like replacement, Luke James, would have been kicking himself for not doubling Pools’ advantages minutes after his arrival, when he hesitated to shoot after being played through by a Howard header.
If the 17-year-old was frustrated, he didn’t portray such a mood. He continued to chase and run, and although he hasn’t hit the heady heights he set when he broke on the scene at the turn of the year, his dearth of sharpness showed glimpses of returning.
It was James, too, who silenced the team’s critics for at least a week when he got on the end of Monkhouse’s ball-to-feet pass, before sending the ball beyond Slocombe and recording Pools’ first win of the season.
It wasn’t a performance on the back of surgery due to the previous maulings, but it is a start.