MATCH REPORT: It’s time for The Penguin Effect at Pools

Andy Monkhouse scores the first of his two goals against Crawley Town. Picture by FRANK REID
Andy Monkhouse scores the first of his two goals against Crawley Town. Picture by FRANK REID
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THE Penguin Effect.

An academic study in which penguins herd as one for the greater warmth of the colony.

In layman’s terms, the group working together for the benefit of the individual.

Hartlepool United should take note, for relations inside Victoria Park need to warm ahead of what could yet prove the most pivotal summer in the club’s recent history.

John Hughes has already hinted – repeatedly - at as much, he needs the support of power brokers Ken Hodcroft, the chairman, and Russ Green, the chief executive.

The penguins need to huddle, if not then Pools will be caught cold going into next season.

And that – the forthcoming campaign – is where attention must swiftly turn.

This season has gone, thank goodness.

While those in the away end at Broadfield Stadium were disguised as penguins, nothing can be done to mask what has been a disastrous nine months.

For as credible a draw as it was on Saturday, the result – save for Portsmouth’s 10-point deduction – confirmed Pools as the division’s worst side over the course of 46 games.

The next 46, however, could well determine the long-term future of the club.

It is not too early to contemplate promotion nor relegation as an eventuality come 12 months from now, for both are realistic possibilities.

Which of those two extremes Pools edge toward depends almost entirely on events of the coming months.

So will it be revolution or evolution?

That is dependent on decisions of this week.

Out-of-contract senior players Neil Austin, Sam Collins, Evan Horwood, Ritchie Humphreys, Andy Monkhouse, Nathan Luscombe and James Poole will discover their fate in the next couple of days.

For Hughes, at least, manoeuvre will be akin to a game of chess.

Already-limited resource will be shrunken still further by relegation.

And, should they seek to avoid demotion from the Football League next season, then investment of funds will have to be better thought-out than it has been in recent years.

There can be no repeat of Colin Nish or Steve Howard, a likeable pair off the pitch but a striking duo whose impact on it has been minimal to say the least.

For goals – a lack of them – are the overriding reason behind the demise of a team which had, for a club-record six seasons, competed on the League One stage.

Two strikers, or goalscorers, rather, must arrive at the Vic this summer, but for that to happen sacrifice will have to be made elsewhere.

Jordan Richards versus Neil Austin? Darren Holden versus Evan Horwood? James Poole versus transfer target x? All thoughts which will be populating the mind of the manager today.

And then there is the threat, or prospect, of overtures from elsewhere.

A seven-figure sum for Scott Flinders and a six-figure offering for Jack Baldwin could yet prove too tempting for a club which is long overdue a healthy sale to boost the coffers.

It promises to be an interesting close-season.

Interesting, however, is not a word which can be readily applied to the first half at the weekend.

It was the proverbial end-of-season dead-rubber, brightened only by the belated appearance of 138 penguins, the draw of London’s watering holes proving greater than the action in West Sussex.

But their arrival was perhaps the injection the contest needed, for the second period bore no resemblance to its predecessor.

Monkhouse, stating a late case for an extended stay on Clarence Road, was its star.

The 32-year-old gave an indication of his intent with a stinging drive shortly after the restart which was repelled by goalkeeper Paul Jones.

Simon Walton and Austin were thwarted with similarly ambitious efforts from range.

But against the run of play it was the hosts – under the charge of former Pools favourite Richie Barker, a goalscorer, don’t forget – who took the lead.

It was an incisive penalty-box entry and deserved a goal, Josh Simpson springing clear before squaring for Jamie Proctor who turned in with ease from close range.

But Monkhouse, aided by Luke James, some 14 years his junior, turned the game on its head and had the penguins waddling with delight.

First the teenager scampered clear down the left and centred for his senior to loop home a header.

Then, just four minutes later, James out-sprung his minder to flick on for Monkhouse to dispatch the most sumptuous first-time volley beyond Jones – an 11th-hour entry for goal of the season, perhaps.

But, in keeping with a campaign of despair, Proctor’s deflected shot one minute from time found its way beyond a helpless Flinders and into the back of the net.

Ultimately, it mattered not, pride had at least been maintained in front of supporters who have deserved so much more this season.

They are a forgiving lot, those penguins.

Next year, however, they are due some payback.

It’s time for The Penguin Effect.