MATCH REPORT: Perhaps John Hughes knows what he’s doing after all

John Hughes celebrates with fans at the final whistle against Leyton Orient. Picture by FRANK REID
John Hughes celebrates with fans at the final whistle against Leyton Orient. Picture by FRANK REID

AT a quarter to five, the lingering memory of this one was an exasperated invective which rolled down from the Town End - “You don’t know what you’re doing”.

They had twice howled their discontent, first at 20 past and then at 20 minutes to the hour.

The trigger – the substitutions - they had deemed misguided, an emotion amplified by their team’s efforts to that point, for Pools had been terribly lacklustre.

But by five o’clock it mattered not.

John Hughes, the target of the terrace vitriol, had just danced a delirious jig down the touchline.

The source of his joy a Luke James goal which climaxed the most remarkable turnaround.

Trailing by a goal to nil with just two minutes of normal time to play, Peter Hartley levelled.

Point salvaged.

But there was another twist in the tale - how fitting it was, then, that the substitutes were to pen the last-gasp narrative in the fourth minute of injury-time.

Steve Howard rose, cushioning into the path of James, he struck, his dispatch taking a long-overdue fortuitous deflection – goal.

Hughes summed it up perfectly - “There was a guy behind the dugout giving me absolute pelters. At the end he wanted to kiss me”.

The Town End rejoiced, they would have happily put one on the lips of the Scot given the chance.

Once the ecstasy of the late drama had subsided, its meaning became clear.

Pools are eight points from safety and unbeaten in five with 14 “cup finals” left to play.

They had won despite what was, in truth, an insipid performance.

The press-box intros had been written – later to be ripped up – words such as “lethargic”, “unimaginative” and “doomed” populating the prose.

Hughes, though, insisted they had played well – the manager has an unrelenting positivity about him, it is evidently rubbing off on his players.

For make no mistake, this comeback would not have been possible in the pre-Christmas malaise of defeat after defeat after defeat.

They are proving people wrong and that, Hughes insists, is the motivation which fuels their desire.

Hartley’s goal demonstrated everything about just that – it was an effort which smacked of desire.

James, a substitute do not forget, won the corner.

Evan Horwood served an expert delivery – his first of an otherwise frustrating game – and Hartley out-muscled his minder to power home an uncompromising header.

It was a captain’s goal.

But more on Horwood.

Here is a left-back who is Pools’ number-one source of goals.

On Saturday, he had repeatedly crossed into the first man and over-ran the ball, it just wasn’t going his way.

Then, though, he assisted for the equaliser - but his part in the winner was sublime.

With just seconds left on the clock a less-assured man would have lumped into the penalty area with the ball rolling to his feet 20 yards out.

Instead, Horwood dropped a shoulder, darted into the danger zone and hung an inviting centre for Howard.

What unfolded next we have already touched upon – it was the perfect end to an imperfect afternoon.

It started badly when Neil Austin conceded a seventh-minute penalty.

He slid to intercept a Lee Cook centre, inadvertently blocking with his arm.

Scott Duncan, the referee, deemed it deliberate – it was not.

Martin Rowlands scored and so began the toil.

The front three of James Poole, Jonathan Franks and Charlie Wyke struggled to impact upon the contest.

Behind them, Ritchie Humphreys, Jack Baldwin and Simon Walton, likewise, failed to exert any influence as proceedings meandered to what seemed an inevitable conclusion.

But the substitutions made a difference.

Howard was a nuisance, Andy Monkhouse injected energy and offensive verve.

While James, the teenager whose season has been so badly punctuated by injury, was the hero.

Perhaps Hughes does know what he’s doing after all.