Analysis: Ronnie Moore has added steel to Hartlepool

GETTING THE BIRD: Ryan Bird scores the opener
GETTING THE BIRD: Ryan Bird scores the opener

ALMOST a year ago to the day, Pools played Oxford United away under the lights, a defeat which sparked a six-game losing run that almost ended in relegation.

Fast forward 12 months and last night’s 2-0 win has planted a firm belief in this side that they can escape the drop into non-league after all.

A fortnight ago they were dead and buried.

Defeat at home to Burton Albion left them staring into the abyss.

Yet two wins on the road, unheard of this season, has pulled Pools to within four points of three sides above them.

Now the pressure is on the sides above, while Ronne Moore has instilled a new found siege mentality in his squad.

CELEBRATION: Ronnie Moore

CELEBRATION: Ronnie Moore

Injuries to key players looked to have hit them hard.

Scott Fenwick out, Matthew Bates out, Michael Woods out.

Yet others have stepped into the breach.

Nicky Featherstone was outstanding last night, while Ryan Bird and Jonathan Franks up front put in a real shift for the side.

Moore has struck upon a winning formula in his 3-5-2 formation away from home, the last four days prove that.

The back five were once again solid as a rock – and one which Oxford couldn’t breach.

Moore has struck upon a winning formula in his 3-5-2 formation away from home, the last four days prove that.

But he has also added renewed steel and belief in the players. An altogether harder task but one from which the club is now reaping the benefit.

Pools headed to the Kassam Stadium looking to build on the 1-0 win at Morecambe, a result which sparked renewed hope that the Great Escape was on after all.

INJURED: the referee goes down, before being stretchered off

INJURED: the referee goes down, before being stretchered off

Getting their first away win since October relieved a boatload or pressure, as did keeping their first away clean sheet in 23 attempts.

Moore’s side travelled to Oxford looking to build on that with their first back-to-back wins since February 15th last year.

Ahead of the match the Pools players had talked of not wasting the opportunity they had given themselves and they didn’t.

Unsurprisingly, Moore kept faith with the same side.

The only change came on the bench, Middlesbrough loanee Jordan Jones back at Boro after the end of his one-month loan spell.

In came ex-Aston Villa youth Ebby Nelson-Addy on the bench, the first time he had been named in the squad since signing an 18-month deal.

Michael Appleton’s Oxford – missing top scorer Danny Hylton through suspension – started with intent.

Captain Scott Flinders had to be alert to deny Josh Ruffels shot and Kemar Roofe’s close-range header, both routine stops.

Up the other end, holding midfielder Featherstone found himself in unfamiliar territory and almost opened the scoring.

His fierce effort cannoning back of the right-hand post, with Oxford keeper Ryan Clarke watching on.

Clarke did get his gloves dirty in the 17th minute, palming over Brad Walker’s cushioned 25-yard effort.

Pools were then denied a clear penalty, Franks pushed to the floor by former Hartlepool United loanee Joe Skarz.

Referee Patrick Miller wasn’t interested, to the dismay of the travelling Pools supporters.

He also denied Oxford a penalty too, Jones appearing to upend Callum O’Dowda but again he waved the appeals away.

Ruffels then hit the post with a header, but Pools held firm and took the lead in the 33rd minute.

Franks shot was blocked, on-loan Cambridge United striker Ryan Bird on hand to finish with conviction from eight yards.

Within six minutes of the re-start it was 2-0. Pools were awarded a penalty after Johnny Mullins handled in the area under pressure from Aaron Tshibola.

Up stepped Bird but his low effort was palmed away by Clarke, only to the feet of onrushing Neil Austin who powered the ball into the roof of the net.

His first goal in open play in more than two years.

Ecstasy for the 102 travelling Pools fans who had made the long midweek trek south.

They then had to watch as their side soaked up an enormous amount of pressure as Oxford pressed for a way back in.

Clear chances were scarce but the ball barely left Pools’ half of the pitch.

Moore wouldn’t have minded too much, his 3-5-2 formation was working well. Again.

Pools looked compact when they didn’t have the ball, a flat back five helping keep the Us at arms length from Flinders’ goal.

Bird, Franks and then Jones put in vital blocks in quick succession.

The biggest cheer of the night came when the referee was accidentally floored by an Oxford forward.

There was a prolonged stoppage before he was stretchered off, and the break seemed to upset Oxford’s flow, giving Moore’s side a chance to regroup and catch their breath.

And how they needed it.

Moore’s men had run their socks off on a poor pitch, they looked leggy but kept going and going and going.

Appleton’s side were reduced to few chances and the nine minutes of added-on time was comfortably dealt with by Pools in the end.

It was tight, it was tense, but Pools held firm.

A second crucial win in the space of four days.

The two clean sheets were crucial too, they couldn’t buy one away from home before Saturday morning.

But like buses, two have come together at once. Both wins were built on solid foundations at the back.

And with Mansfield Town at home next before Cambridge United visit the week after, hope has been restored.

Now they have to build on the momentum in front of a packed and buoyant Vic this weekend.