MATCH REPORT: Pools boys “earn their keep” in win over Scunthorpe United

Jonathan Franks takes possession just outside of the Scunthorpe penalty area. Photograph by FRANK REID
Jonathan Franks takes possession just outside of the Scunthorpe penalty area. Photograph by FRANK REID
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KEN Hodcroft doesn’t do doublespeak – “the players have to start earning their keep”, the message was clear.

When the Pools chairman sees fit to intervene he will, this time using his pre-match programme notes do deliver his broadside.

The campaign may still be in its infancy, but Hodcroft’s early-season warning was entirely just.

Its target – the players – was fair.

For, before Saturday, their performance had prompted not one, but two post-match tirades from manager Neale Cooper, and this after just three games.

They were without a win, without a goal even, and, perhaps most alarmingly, seemingly void of the resolve to resurrect their flailing fortunes.

Cooper demanded a response, so, too, Hodcroft.

Thankfully, they got one.

Yes, it wasn’t a swashbuckling display to silence all critics and some supporters still grumbled, but it was better, a step in the right direction.

And, after all, it was a victory.

There were signs of encouragement in several quarters of the park, not least the return of Paul Murray.

Had the veteran anchorman figured in the first three matches of the season then the narrative may have been different going into the weekend.

Murray was not voted fans’ player of the season without good reason and his previous absence from the team surprised many.

He is a reassuring presence, for team-mates, supporters and, now, his manager.

He is, put simply, a good footballer.

But there were others aside the man-of-the-match who deserve mention.

Evan Horwood weaved his way up and down the left wing on countless occasions and laid on the first goal for Jonathan Franks, who smashed home in emphatic fashion on 23 minutes.

The defender should have left with more than just the one assist, but others were to fail his fine approach play.

The source of Pools’ relief-inducing second goal was Horwood’s left-flank comrade Andy Monkhouse, the wideman again catching the eye.

It was Luke James who produced the uncompromising finish three minutes from time, taking Monkhouse’s centre on his chest before dispatching a stunning volley into the bottom corner from 18 yards.

Just moments earlier Steve Howard, bidding for his first goal since returning to Victoria Park, had seen his powerful penalty palmed clear by an airborne Sam Slocombe – a save, not a miss, in anyone’s book.

Josh Walker was sent off for his part in the award of the spot-kick, clawing the impressive Tony Sweeney’s goal-bound header from the line.

The penalty save frayed home nerves, but James calmed all with his sumptuous strike.

The goal will, hopefully, kickstart the teenager’s campaign, for he had previously struggled amid the shortcomings of his senior team-mates.

In finding the back of the net, James had succeeded where Howard and James Poole had failed.

The dearth of options in attack remains a concern for Cooper, and the performance of his starting front duo on Saturday was unconvincing.

Poole started like a man with a point to prove, which, to Cooper, he has, but faded badly as the game wore on.

Howard, likewise, was somewhat lethargic, a series of inviting balls into the box passing without his connection.

Cooper will resume his search for offensive reinforcement today, but more is needed from the current personnel.

At the back, Scott Flinders played his part in preserving Pools’ one-goal lead with two instinctive second-half saves and, that apart, the rearguard were rarely troubled, going about their business with minimum fuss.

Marrying it all together remains the conundrum for Cooper, for with a sharper edge in front of goal Pools should have seen home their first win of the season in far more comfortable fashion.

But three points, two goals and none conceded are the stats which count.

It’s a start.

The Pools boys have, for this week at least, earned their keep.