MATCH REPORT: Pompey jibes can’t ruin Pools day

James Poole celebrates his goal against Portsmouth. Picture by FRANK REID
James Poole celebrates his goal against Portsmouth. Picture by FRANK REID
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“YOU’RE going down with the Pompey, down with the Pompey”.

It was all they could cling to, a self-mocking chant laced with spite.

They, the home fans, are probably accurate in their assumption, Pools will, in all likelihood, be relegated with Portsmouth.

But at least on the evidence of this contest, John Hughes’ men will not go down without a fight, for they were the deserved victors in the battle of the basement.

And who knows? Maybe Pools can stage the greatest escape act in the history of the Football League.

Talk of that, however, is suspended until we at least bare witness to back-to-back results, for this could yet prove to be the latest optimism-inducing false dawn.

Only next Saturday against Notts County will provide answer in that respect.

But, for now, let us enjoy the merits of this triumph, a win which takes Pools to within 10 points of safety.

That such a margin is a cause for hope serves to highlight the disaster this season has been.

Hughes, speaking to reporters on Friday, saw fit to relegate his usual emphasis on reshaping the club and the ethos of it.

Instead, his focus was trained on the next match.

“We must win, it is as simple as that,” declared the Scot.

It was a brave approach, for winning is not a practice with which his squad are accustomed right now.

It raised the stakes and, perhaps intentionally, Hughes had afforded the match a sense of occasion.

And that was evident from the off, both teams contributing to what was a thoroughly entertaining affair.

In the end, the greater desire of Pools won through, that and three moments of quality which belied their League One setting.

But special mention must first go to Scott Flinders, the goalkeeper who will populate a shortlist of one when it comes to player-of-the-season nominations.

Pools do not do come-from-behind victories – so to concede first invariably renders the remainder of the contest academic.

That is why the heroics of Flinders during a frenzied two-minute period in the first half must not be overlooked.

On four occasions did he thwart Pompey.

Two were routine saves from range.

But the others, a pair of bottom-corner claws which even drew applause from the home crowd, were breathtaking.

So if the netminder allowed himself a wry smirk of satisfaction when, within 60 seconds, his side were in front, then it was well deserved.

Evan Horwood hung a free-kick into the penalty area and Jack Baldwin soared before planting a header into the bottom corner – not even Flinders would have saved this one.

Baldwin’s flat-mate, James Poole, then doubled the advantage seven minutes after the break.

Enjoying his first start since November in the absence of the injured Steve Howard, he seized his chance with a classy finish into the top corner, Neil Austin having assisted with a lofted ball downfield.

Many supporters have been quick to jump on Howard’s removal as reason for the upturn.

Don’t forget, though, it was his double which helped Pools to their 3-2 win at Sheffield United last month.

But there was no mistaking the fluidity with which Pools poured forward.

Charlie Wyke was the new focal point and Poole and Jon Franks buzzed around him.

Baldwin, as you’d expect, exuded the authority of a veteran playing his 200th game in an advanced midfield role, that it was his second demonstrates his class.

All the while that front four were given license to terrorise Pompey by the holding pair of Ritchie Humphreys and Simon Walton, the latter enjoying his best game yet in a Pools shirt.

As for Humphreys, his refusal to surrender possession underpinned the performance.

Even further back in the field Sam Collins and Peter Hartley were dogged and resolute., the former, in particular, putting his body on the line inside the goalmouth on countless occasions.

The only stain on their afternoon was the goal which ensured a nervy close to proceedings, Collins beaten by James Keene in the air with the unmarked Jed Wallace despatching a delicious volley.

But tension evaporated for Hughes and the 200-strong following when substitute Greg Rutherford, on the field for little more than 60 seconds, accepted a pass from Franks before racing clear and rolling effortlessly into the back of the net for his first senior goal.

It silenced the home crowd and prompted their exit, the only sound now the celebrations of the visiting party.

The day belonged to them – and rightly so.