Pools analysis: Hartlepool United 2 Middlesbrough 1: ‘We’re going to win the league’

Louis Laing heads Hartlepool United level. Picture by FRANK REID
Louis Laing heads Hartlepool United level. Picture by FRANK REID

Hartlepool United’s odds for instant promotion into the Football League might not have tumbled on the basis of this result – but confidence will certainly have risen.

A come-from-behind victory over Middlesbrough’s U23 team victory was hardly a shock – it would have been a surprise if they hadn’t won.

However, the success in last night’s downpour, earned by two goals in a spell of three second-half minutes minutes by Louis Laing and Jack Munns will send Craig Harrison’s squad into next Saturday’s National Leagie opener with Dover Athletic full of beans.

Certainly the fans liked it.

Despite being only 1,300 in number and being housed in only two areas of Victoria Park, they made enough noise.

“We’re going to win the league” was very much a tongue-in-cheek chant after the goals rained in, but the rapturous applause at the final whistle was genuine.

No one is going to put their mortgage on Pools winning the National League on the basis of a friendly win over a gifted, yet, raw bunch of Boro prospects.

But there is real hope from inside AND outside the squad that Harrison has put together a squad that can compete at the top end.

Last night’s side had the look of the XI he might well send out next Saturday.

Of course, pre-season is not done and dusted yet – the players who did not make the final cut last night will have their opportunity this afternoon in the final friendly, at Whitley Bay.

A dynamic display at Hillheads would give Harrison and his right-hand-man, Paul Jenkins, food for thought in the coming days.

However, last night’s winning formation have made it hard for Harrison to take the smart new blue and white jerseys from them.

Left-back Blair Adams came off in the second half as a precaution but he will line-up in a back four with new club captain Carl Magnay and Scott Harrison and Laing.

Conor Newton, playing as the deepest- lying midfielder, had another fine match and is looking better by the game.

Michael Woods and Lewis Hawkins, an old combination going back three managers, were vibrant in the midfield again and they are going to take some shifting from the heart of the side.

Munns, who made one and scored the winner, was lively on one side of the park with Ryan Donaldson on the other with Padraig Amond working, like a trojan again, as the man through the middle.

Pools, a couple of scares early and late on aside, were strong at the back and positive in midfield. Perhaps the final third lacked that little last bit of polish, but it will come.

Boro sent a decent side – they had £3.5million worth of talent in midfield in the shape of Adlene Guedioura, though talent might be pushing it on the evidence of last night’s ‘performance’.

The side, managed by ex-Pools favourite, Graeme Lee, also had World U20 Cup gold medallist, Harry Chapman.

We got to see the Hartlepool teenager’s frightening pace a couple of times, but Pools, did a good job on keeping him quiet.

Boro had a couple of other international players, but it was Pools who looked, and proved to be, the better team.

Munns came extremely close to giving Pools an eighth-minute lead only to curl his shot from outside the box just wide of keeper’s left upright.

Soon after, summer signing George Miller headed over Scott Loach’s bar before Amond repeated the trick at the other end from a Donaldson free-kick.

Loach had his hands warmed by a Marcus Tavernier shot from outside the area just after the half-hour as the opening 45 minutes ended goalless.

At the break, a stalemate looked likely, but the deadlock was broken seven minutes into the second period when Miller scored his second goal since his move from Bury, showing good movement and a clever finish to convert a right-wing cross from close range.

However, Pools drew level in the 59th minute when Munns flighted over a free-kick from the left and Laing headed past Brad James from six yards at the Town End.

And barely had the celebrations died down than the home fans were singing again.

Hawkins and Woods combined superbly to find Munns who broke into the box and finished with an excellent left-foot finish high into the away net.

Newton and Woods had pops at goal from outside the box but Pools could not put the game to bed.

There were a couple of scares, with Callum Johnson having free header from Boro free-kick which Loach saved comfortably, while Miller went wide from a Mikael Soisalo cross.

But Pools hung on for a deserved win.

Pools: Loach, Magnay (capt), Laing Harrison, Adams (Richardson 69), Newton, Woods, Hawkins, Donaldson, Munns, Amond

Unused subs: Catterick, Sadiki, Hawkes, Blackford, Rodney

Goals: Laing 59; Munns 61

Boro: James, Johnson, Mahmutovic, Brewitt (Goode 46), Reading, Liddle (Wing 46), Soisalo, Tavernier, Guudioura, Chapman (Curry 85), Miller

Unused subs: Hemmings, Wilson

Goal: Miller 52

Referee: Geoff Eltringham

Attendance: 1,29