MATCH REPORT: Nat’s the way to do it!

Steve Howard plays the ball on as Pools look to attack. Picture by FRANK REID
Steve Howard plays the ball on as Pools look to attack. Picture by FRANK REID

WHITBY is a seaside town famed more for its fish and chips than its football.

And, before last night, Nathan Luscombe was a young man whose waist size was fast outgrowing his own footballing reputation.

Reporting overweight for pre-season training earlier this month, he infuriated manager Neale Cooper to such a degree that the Scot could not bring himself to even speak to the former Sunderland trainee.

He was refused a seat on the aeroplane by his boss for last week’s trip to Holland for the annual summer getaway, his future at Victoria Park seemingly in serious doubt.

But with Luscombe there will always be a shot at redemption, not least because of the talent which resides in that stocky frame.

Enter his name into YouTube and you’ll discover just why he was once a teenager of such heralded repute – a Soccer AM Skills School face-off with England’s Jordan Henderson, then a team-mate at Sunderland, the evidence in question.

But last night, on a far more humble stage, Luscombe made the first stride towards salvaging not just his Pools career, but also that of his footballing livelihood.

It was a small step, granted, but it was nonetheless a foot in the right direction after months of inching, quite literally, in the wrong one.

This may sound like a harsh assessment, but Cooper himself does not duck away from the issue – just take a glance at his quotes on the subject, “I was absolutely raging and couldn’t even speak to him, I was that angry”.

But here we are dedicating back pages to the Geordie-born midfielder after, what ultimately was, a 25-minute cameo.

That, though, serves to highlight his potential.

In four hours of pre-season football Pools had failed to breach the target, a pair of noughts in Holland followed by another 65 minutes of half chances against non-league hosts.

But Luscombe changed that, Cooper later admitting his was the “spark” which the visitors had been craving.

The sight of a midfield player taking charge of possession and driving toward opposition territory was one which no doubt prompted an emotion somewhere between relief and hope for Cooper.

Indeed, it was Luscombe’s left-wing burst which led to Pools’ first goal of the summer.

He scurried in behind the full-back and showed the presence of mind to draw an incisive cross to the edge of the area, intended for the arriving Paul Murray.

The ball, in fact, was intercepted, but only just, and Murray was able to steal before slotting into the bottom corner on 72 minutes.

Murray’s performance was the other real positive of a night which, on the whole, frustrated Cooper.

He was angry at the nature of Whitby’s late leveller.

Sam Collins dwelt in possession and was robbed by Nathan Mulligan, the substitute then wriggling by the skipper before seeing his deflected shot escape the grasp of Scottish trialist Adam McHugh.

And so it ended all square, but it had been a far from friendly encounter.

Jack Baldwin’s first-half departure on a stretcher with a gashed ankle – former Pools man Mark Robinson the culprit – is a cause for anxiety and he could be missing until the start of the season at least.

Then, in a moment of madness, Paul Johnson raced to get on the end of a dropping ball only to nut square on the cheekbone his team-mate Simon Walton.

Walton was still nursing a nasty cut and a furrowed brow when he eventually left the Turnbull Ground.

It was the sort of feisty affair which could have done without men going down under ‘friendly fire’.

From the off The Seasiders were making waves, crashing through challenges and not affording their visitors an inch.

But Pools did create chances for Ritchie Humphreys, who twice saw goal-bound headers clawed clear, Colin Nish, whose delicate chip was hacked from the line, and Steve Howard, who, after good work from Nish, was denied by a fine save.

Then came the arrival of Luscombe and, in Cooper’s words, the game changed.

And that word, “change”, is what the 22-year-old must now do if this early sprinkling of praise is to swell into anything more substantial.

Dietary habits are what Cooper is alluding to and, despite admitting he was tempted himself, that meant no fish-and-chip reward for last night’s star man.

SportMail Man-of-the-Match: Nathan Luscombe – let us hope the sight of the talented Geordie exerting his influence becomes a permanent one. Special mention, too, goes to scorer Paul Murray, who kept Pools together in the middle of the park.

Pools: Flinders (McHugh 46), Baldwin (Richards 30), Collins, Johnson, Holden, James, Murray, Walton (Rowbotham 60), Humphreys, Howard, Nish (Luscombe 65).