MATCH REPORT: ‘We are unbeatable’ sing fans as Hartlepool United beat AFC Wimbledon

Matty Dolan celebrates his goal against AFC Wimbledon
Matty Dolan celebrates his goal against AFC Wimbledon
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“WE are unbeatable”.

That was the chant raining down from the terraces midway through the second half of last night’s deserved victory over Wimbledon and what a wait it has been for Hartlepool United fans to be able to sing such a song.

Under the guidance of Colin Cooper and Craig Hignett, Pools have now won five consecutive games in all competitions to the delight of the long-suffering supporters.

The last time Pools achieved such a feat was between November 2010 and January 2011 when they racked up league and cup victories over Tranmere, Bournemouth, Yeovil, Huddersfield and Oldham.

It may only have been just over three years ago but it feels like a lifetime for fans who have been starved of quality and winning performances for too long, culminating in last season’s relegation to the bottom tier.

But it finally feels like the downward spiral Pools found themselves in has now bottomed out and the pride has been restored to Hartlepool United.

Last night’s win over Wimbledon was far from easy, and at times it was a struggle, but it was deserved because Pools made the most of their chances.

Pundits and coaches say the sign of a good team is to win when not playing well. Well, then Cooper looks to have a good team on his hands because it was far from vintage from Pools but it was decisive and clinical when it mattered.

Goals from Simon Walton, Luke James and on-loan Middlesbrough midfielder Matty Dolan secured the three points and it meant four straight league wins and back-to-back home victories.

The last time Pools won four league matches in succession was in September 2011 and Cooper will be hoping to extend that winning run at Scunthorpe United on Saturday as they continue their climb up League Two.

Pools are now in 14th position, with 18 points from 13 games, after the win which saw them leapfrog Wimbledon.

Cooper’s only change saw Jonathan Franks come in for the suspended Jack Compton after the club decided against appealing his red card in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Plymouth Argyle.

It was the first time Pools had ever played AFC Wimbledon, since they formed in 2002 following the controversial decision to relocate Wimbledon to Milton Keynes and change the name to MK Dons.

But it was The Dons, as they are still known, that almost took the lead in the third minute when former Darlington striker Michael Smith smashed the ball into the net past Scott Flinders. Thankfully for Pools the referee had already blown his whistle for offside.

Pools started the game slowly for the second consecutive match and Wimbledon certainly showed they were no pushovers with Neil Austin having to be on his toes in the 15th minute to come across the box and clear from Smith, who would otherwise have been in on goal.

Cooper’s side were second to the ball and sluggish in possession in the opening period but they came to life in the 29th minute when Dolan – whose loan spell Cooper is looking to extend for a third month when it expires later this week – stung the gloves of Dons keeper Ross Worner.

Then three minutes later Pools were awarded a penalty when James Poole was bundled over by Alan Bennett, who it’s fair to say didn’t have the best of nights for the away side.

Midfielder Walton made no mistake in smashing the ball to the right of Worner’s despairing dive for his first goal of the season.

Wimbledon almost hit back straight away but Flinders was again alert and palmed away Smith’s strike from just inside the penalty area.

Dons midfielder Harry Pell then had a free-kick deflected wide moments before the break and from the resulting corner Bennett found himself free in the Pools box but headed over.

The game could have swung either way in the early stages of the second half and it was the visitors who equalised in the 66th minute courtesy of another penalty after Andy Monkhouse brought down on-loan Burnley winger George Porter over inside the area.

Pell stepped up to send Flinders the wrong way and the travelling 235 away fans into delirium.

At this stage either side could have taken home the three points but Pools have developed a canny knack of scoring just at the right time recently and it was once again 18-year-old sensation James that restored Pools’ lead in the 72nd minute.

Walton floated a long ball towards James who caught Bennett off guard to leap like a salmon and loop a glorious header over Worner and into the back of the net for his seventh of the season.

A wonderful header from the youngster whose tireless running is a constant thorn in defender’s sides.

Wimbledon continued to push forward and counter-attacking Pools exploited that to extend their lead when Michael Duckworth broke free down the right-hand flank in the 83rd minute.

The right-back cut the ball inside to Dolan whose power drive was too strong for Worner.

Statistics show over the course of the 90 minutes both sides had four shots on target.

The difference between the teams, was that Pools took full advantage of three of those to secure the three points and another vital win.