GOALS from Marlon Harewood and a stunning strike from teenager Brad Walker have given Hartlepool United a 2-0 half-time lead in their Sky Bet League Two match with Bristol Rovers.
Pools scored after just 58 seconds through Harewood’s header before Walker stepped up from 25-yards with a fine, curling effort to make it two nil.
Experienced striker Harewood, 34, returned to the starting line-up in place of forward Jonathan Franks, who had started in Tuesday night’s goalless draw at Accrington Stanley.
Manager Colin Cooper kept faith with the same back-four and midfield though that played at Accrington, with on-loan Manchester United forward Jack Barmby again given the chance to shine behind the front two of Harewood and Luke James.
Pools started the day in 10th place, five points off the play-off places, while opponents Bristol Rovers - who have former Pools midfielder Darrell Clarke as their assistant manager - were 16th in the league.
It was a breathless start to the match, with Pools - kicking towards the Town End - showing their intent from the off.
Brad Walker burst through the middle and released James down the left-hand flank who showed great strength to hold off Tom Parkes before chipping the ball back towards Walker.
The 17-year-old couldn’t connect properly with the header but it flicked to Jordan Richards who won a corner.
Barmby stepped up to whip the ball towards James who flicked it on from the six-yard line, with Harewood on hand to head home from one yard with just 58 seconds on the clock.
It was almost two four minutes later but Walker’s fierce 20-yard low strike was well pushed away by Steve Mildenhall in the Bristol goal.
Winger Andy Monkhouse then had to be withdrawn with a hamstring problem, being replaced by Jack Compton.
Fifteen minutes in and it was 2-0.
Walker, only 17, took a touch from a Barmby pass 25-yards out before curling an unstoppable shot into the bottom corner past the hapless Mildenhall.
Cooper’s side were well worthy of the 2-0 lead, with Walker in particular getting loads of space in the centre of the pitch.
It took Bristol time to settle after the early blow of going two down, with dangerman John-Joe O’Toole starting to get on the ball more.
In the 25th minute he played in Matt Harrold inside the penalty area but captain Sam Collins was alert to block the shot for a corner, the resulting set piece headed wide by Parkes.
Walker again tested Mildenhall from 25-yards after a lay-off from Harewood but his rasping shot was tipped over the bar by the keeper.
Collins was called on again in the 36th minute to throw his back in the way of a goal-bound O’Toole strike from 16-yards, to deflect the ball away for a corner.
Bristol - with nothing to lose - threw off their shackles and pushed forward in a bid to get back into the game but Pools held firm.
Cooper’s side were patient in their build-up play, with the midfield four seeing a lot of the ball.
O’Toole tested Scott Flinders- making his 200th league appearance for Pools this afternoon - with a 25-yard strike five minutes before the half-time break but the Pools stopper was more than equal to it.
David Clarkson fired high and wide over the bar seconds before referee Seb Stockbridge blew the whistle for the half-time beak.
HALF TIME: Pools 2 Bristol Rovers 0
Pools (4-4-2): Flinders, Richards, Collins (C), Burgess, Holden, Walton, Walker, Monkhouse (Compton, 15), Barmby, James, Harewood.
Subs Not Used: Rafferty (gk), Rowbotham, Hawkins, Sweeney, Franks, Poole.
Bristol Rovers (4-2-3-1): Mildenhall, Smith, Woodards, Parkes, Clarkson, Harrold, Brown, Clucas, McChrystal, O’Toole, Mohamed.
Subs Not Used: Gough (gk) Gillespie, Harrison, Beardsley, Clarke, Lockyer, Santos.
Referee: Seb Stockbridge (Tyne & Wear)