RICHARD MENNEAR’S ANALYSIS: Hartlepool United put Luke James saga to one side with battling win

Sam Collins in action against AFC Wimbledon. Picture by FRANK REID
Sam Collins in action against AFC Wimbledon. Picture by FRANK REID

THE badge on the front of the shirt is bigger than any name on the back.

Hartlepool United’s performance in the second-half at Wimbledon proved that old football adage to be true.

Marlon Harewood celebrates after scoring against AFC Wimbledon. Picture by FRANK REID

Marlon Harewood celebrates after scoring against AFC Wimbledon. Picture by FRANK REID

Want-away striker Luke James no longer wants to be part of the set-up and Colin Cooper confirmed after the match he had gone AWOL for three days prior to kick-off.

His desire to leave has been made abundantly clear with two transfer requests and not turning up for training on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

But if he does get his wish to leave, then Hartlepool United will continue.

Granted, it would be a mammoth task replacing the club’s finest asset – not to mention his 16 goals last season – but he isn’t the first player to want to leave and won’t be the last.

Marlon Harewood celebrates after scoring against AFC Wimbledon. Picture by FRANK REID

Marlon Harewood celebrates after scoring against AFC Wimbledon. Picture by FRANK REID

Pools fans must not forget what he has done in recent seasons but it is his most recent actions that are leaving a bitter taste, the management feel he is being badly advised.

But while he failed to report for duty, those that did, managed to secure their first league win and in impressive fashion.

It was a real team effort too – a gritty, resilient, determined and dogged display coupled with some clinical finishing up front, for a change.

The second-half effort was a world away from the four previous matches and what made it even more sweeter was that it didn’t look likely at half-time.

Tommy Miller in action against AFC Wimbledon. Picture by FRANK REID

Tommy Miller in action against AFC Wimbledon. Picture by FRANK REID

Pools had started in much the same way as they have in every game so far, starting well before conceding a sloppy goal.

But whatever the manager and players said at half-time worked.

Pools were transformed. Marlon Harewood, who was poor in the opening 45 minutes, was almost unplayable in the second half while Charlie Wyke, who on this display at least, looks an improved player than the one we saw two years ago.

His touch was better and he looks stronger. A promising display, without getting too carried away.

Bradley Walker in action against AFC Wimbledon. Picture by FRANK REID

Bradley Walker in action against AFC Wimbledon. Picture by FRANK REID

At one stage in the first-half Pools found themselves bottom of Sky Bet League Two, by the end of the match they had climbed to the dizzy heights of 19th.

Cooper praised his players for showing a lot of heart – and they did for this was almost a must-win match. Early in the season, yes, but the start and performances had been so poor that morale and confidence levels on the terraces were rock bottom.

It was also pleasing to see the players hadn’t been distracted by events off the field.

Cooper started with a 4-4-2 formation, with Harewood, Wyke, Tommy Miller and Sam Collins in from the start at Kingsmeadow. A solid looking Pools line-up, with Ryan Brobbel on the left and Jonathan Franks the right and they started well.

Wyke went close in the first minute but his shot was saved by stopper James Shea.

Then, just 10 minutes in, Pools shot themselves in the foot again. They must be almost running out of bullets.

A cross from the left-flank found Matt Tubbs free near the penalty spot – having got in between Collins and captain Matthew Bates – and he fired low past Scott Flinders into the bottom right-hand corner.

It was a free shot on goal, a penalty almost, and it seemed the writing was on the wall.

Bates should have equalised in the 15th minute but couldn’t get his head on a pin-point Brobbel free-kick from the left wing. Brobbel’s set-piece delivery was excellent again all afternoon.

The Dons, managed by Neal Ardley, then started to dictate the play and almost doubled their lead in the 25th minute through right-back Barry Fuller.

He sneaked in past Brobbel and fired in a volley from inside the area but it rattled off the crossbar, with Flinders beaten.

Wyke then had a header saved following another good Brobbel centre before Flinders was called into action twice as the game approached half-time, first diving full-stretch to deny Adebayo Akinfenwa before tipping George Francomb’s lofted effort over the bar.

At half-time you couldn’t have predicted what was to happen next, as Pools came out a team transformed.

Within 60 seconds of the re-start they were level. Wyke, scoring Pools’ first league goal of the season, nodding in from close range.

Brobbel’s free-kick into the area was flicked on by Collins and it popped up nicely for Wyke to send the travelling fans into delirium. It was scrappy, but nobody cared. Pools had managed to score.

The Dons then had two good chances, Tubbs with the best effort after shaking off Collins but it drifted across the face of goal.

Then Pools started to boss proceedings, bullying the home side with Harewood leading the charge up front.

He looked like he’d had a rocket at half-time but whatever was said worked and he didn’t let the Dons defence have a moment’s peace.

In the 68th minute, he scored the winner.

It was a well-worked team goal, the ball eventually falling to dangerman Brobbel on the left-wing who picked out Harewood 10-yards out.

He took a touch, turned, and then fired low past Shea.

Victory was in sight but it was almost snatched away in the 76th minute, after Miller conceded a penalty after a clear foul on Tubbs.

Up stepped the Dons frontman but Flinders dived to his right to superbly push the ball away before getting up quickly to make the follow-up block.

Pools were under the cosh in the final 10 minutes but they held firm for a morale-boosting and much-needed three points. Cooper will continue to look to strengthen and rightly so, this was only one win and the same problems still exist in terms of squad depth and quality.

The players were given Bank Holiday Monday off given their efforts but they will be back to work at Maiden Castle tomorrow ahead of Cheltenham Town away this weekend.

Saturday’s win was a big step in the right direction but the bar has been set now and the players need to maintain that level of performance.

Pools (4-4-2): Flinders, Duckworth, Collins, Bates (C), Austin, Franks, Miller, Walker, Brobbel, Harewood, Wyke (Richards, 81).

Subs Not Used: Barber, Holden, Harrison, Smith, Compton, Woods.

Goal: Wyke (46) Harewood (68)

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Shea, Fuller, Kennedy (Azeez, 73) Moore (Pell, 64), Barrett, Bennett (C), Rigg, Bulman, Akinfenwa, Tubbs, Francomb (Sainte-Luce, 64).

Subs Not Used: Worner, Phillips, Nicholson, Harrison.

Goal: Tubbs (10)

Booked: Pell.

Referee: Brendan Malone (Wiltshire)

Attendance: 3,576 (170 Pools)