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Hartlepool Finally Find Home Winning Luke

Sunday 8th January 2012
When Neale Cooper assessed the squad at his disposal, the first thing he pointed out was the distinct lack of pace in the squad, especially in the forward areas.

For without a pacy striker or wingers in the mould of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon from flank-to-flank, Hartlepool have struggled to carve out and convert chances. Come Saturday however, Pools crossed the finish line to a standing ovation to bring to an end a marathon that has lasted since October 1.

And they did it with a helluva sprint face. Seventeen-year-old Luke James bursting onto the footballing scene in spectacular fashion, a 25-yard rocket hurtling past Rochdale's goalkeeper and hitting the postage stamp.

It was a goal worthy of a gold.

Cooper may have meant genuine pace, pace in the legs, but what James delivered was a shot enriched with pace, hit with venom, engulfed with accuracy and swerve. It was, to put it boldly: immense.

False starts were as frequent in the first 30 minutes as home goals have been for Hartlepool in the past three months, for it took awhile for the hosts to realise just how poor Chris Beech's Dale were; late runners out of their starting blocks.

But once they did, they commenced an assault on Dale's defence, hurrying forward and puncturing second-bottom Rochdale's confidence.

And it is confidence which was syringed back into Pools today. After nine games of confidence being sucker-punched out of them, it gradually came back minute-by-minute, goal-by-goal, roar-by-roar to them.

Luke James' cross was met by an alert Andy Monkhouse whistling into the box from the left, though his header was saved. Pools were pressing forward by now, Rochdale punting long missiles from the back to refute Pools.

Sam Collins dealt very well with them, however, winning almost every header on his return to action. The skipper also timed to perfection one interception, leaving his position to rebuke the ball away from danger expertly. Liddle, too, was denied by Kurucz from a header.

James advanced on a hurtling run from the halfway line, dipping inside with every step before pushing a shot a goal. Then, just before half time, Monkhouse watched on as his header from a James cross was blocked off the line.

The adrenaline rush continued in the second half, Pools carrying on where they left off: in desperate vain of the first goal.

For all of Pools' creativity from the outside lanes today, including some long overdue good crosses from Horwood, the central lane was rarely crowded, James often alone by himself: the midfield of Liddle, Murray and Baldwin stretching outside or not commiting forward.

A free kick from Neil Auston ricocheted off the three man wall, bouncing kindly to Paul Murray to cries of "shoot", although the ensuing shot meant the fans probably wished they remained silent.

Gary Jones, so often the thorn for Pools in recent games against today's visitors, was virtually anonymous, Baldwin and Liddle (restored back to the middle) teaming up not to allow him to dictate the game.

Pools speeded up their attacking purposes, Sweeney and Horwood passing between one another the baton of crosses: the duo sending in an array of inviting crosses throughout.

Murray was withdrawn for James Brown, and the striker instantaneously made his mark. Operant in the furthest lane, he tucked into the box for a Collins throw-in. Cleared at first, or so Dale thought, the ball fell to James who looped the ball back in towards Sweeney who knocked it further on and Brown headed over the keeper.

The Town End appeared rapidly out of its shell, bursting into a newly-founded tune of "We're winning at home, we're winning at home, how sh*t must you be, we're winning at home". A tune borne out of frustration from the previous failings, but a rendition actually mirroring the quality of Dale. For they were just that, the insult verb used.

The now raucous home support were then singing the name of their new hero, James. Just six minutes later he fired in his marvellous blockbusting goal, sprinting away to celebrate, almost not knowing what to do. What he did do, though, was provide the icing to the cake made by Brown.

The marathon of nine succesive home losses is over, the requisition of pace Cooper cried for was apparent; though not quite not as expected, but in Luke James' tremendous effort and the hosts eagerness to win at home.

They haven't set any records, but they avoided setting an unwanted record, and all of a sudden a place in the league's podium places come the end of the season isn't as far-fetched as some may think.
cmbell310

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