richard mennear’s match analysis: Great win sets standard

Charlie Wyke celebrates scoring the opening goal in Pools 2-0 win over Shrewsbury Town. Picture by FRANK REID
Charlie Wyke celebrates scoring the opening goal in Pools 2-0 win over Shrewsbury Town. Picture by FRANK REID
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THEY say a week is a long time in politics and the same can certainly be said of football.

This time last week Hartlepool United supporters were bracing themselves for the departure of Luke James on deadline day and licking their wounds after an agonising defeat at Cheltenham Town.

Four defeats out of five league games and the loss of the club’s star striker.

Fast forward seven days and a well-deserved and much-needed 2-0 win over Shrewsbury Town - Pools’ first on home soil this term - has lifted both spirits and confidence.

Who needs Luke James hey? Well, let’s not be too hasty on that front. Last season’s top scorer netted 16 goals and that will be hard to replace.

But one match into the post-James era and Pools were full of energy, enthusiasm, pace and creativity.

Neil Austin said a good week’s training and lack of midweek match helped and on Saturday, Pools were unshackled and full of confidence.

Players in their natural positions helped, of course, and the side attacked and defended as a unit.

It was pleasing to see and it was, without doubt, the best Pools performance of the season so far.

Not perfect and a few further additions from the loan market to bolster the squad are still a necessity too.

But it was so much better than recent weeks and a platform to build on.

There was doom and gloom ahead of kick-off after the poor start, James’ sale and lack of replacements but by the end the sun had come out and fans were heading home with smiles on their faces.

After the opening six games Pools have six points - four more than at this stage last season - but this is only the start.

The standard has been set and it needs to be repeated when Tranmere Rovers come calling on Saturday.

At the weekend though Pools were full value for the three points and there were several man of the match contenders.

The defence was solid and coupled with some clinical finishing inside the penalty area it was a very pleasing afternoon’s work.

Leading into the match, the players and management had rightly stressed the football season is a marathon not a sprint - apt given Cooper was taking part in the Great North Run half-marathon on Sunday.

Fans want to see far more performances like this one, though, over the coming months.

Scott Harrison and Matthew Bates were immense, Ryan Brobbel and Jack Compton dangerous all afternoon, with Charlie Wyke and Jonathan Franks proving a constant thorn in the Shrewsbury defence.

Tommy Miller had his best game back in a blue and white shirt while Brad Walker was much improved and capped a decent performance with a fine goal.

Cooper was glowing in his praise afterwards and likened it to a goal from Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo - who does bear a resemblance to the man from Billingham.

Not that the manager was getting carried away mind.

While he praised the energy, enthusiasm and improved quality, he knows they need to do this week in, week out.

Cooper had made three changes from the side beaten at Cheltenham.

In came Stuart Parnaby at right-back, in place of the injured Michael Duckworth, Harrison for Sam Collins and Compton for Harewood, who dropped to the bench.

A more balanced Pools side got at Town - who were previously unbeaten in the league - from the off.

In the first minute, Wyke latched on to a good knock-down from Franks before hitting a crisp low shot just wide of left-hand post.

Then four minutes later Pools had taken the lead.

A booming header forward from Harrison found Wyke who recovered well from an initially heavy first touch to feed Compton down the left flank.

Compton burst forward into the box before squaring the ball to Wyke who passed it into the bottom right-hand corner.

A lovely finish, his second since signing on loan.

Pools looked bright and creative going forward and should have scored more, Brobbel scuffing a shot from just six-yards out.

At the back they were taking a no-nonsense approach with Bates and Harrison commanding and resolute.

Micky Mellon’s Shrews side did have chances though, in the 29th minute Scott Vernon’s looping header was wide of Scott Flinders’ post while the dangerous Jordan Clark was being given too much space.

James Collins then had a shot saved from Flinders as Pools invited pressure on as the half wore on.

Then an injury blow before half-time with Parnaby having to be replaced at right-back by Jordan Richards - a good job Pools have strength in depth in that position, at least.

The next goal was going to be crucial and Pools started the second in the same vein they had the first.

Compton delivered several pin-point crosses but the forwards couldn’t take advantage of his excellent play.

The home side should have had their first penalty of the game in the 54th minute.

Brobbel was in on goal when Nathanial Knight-Percival bundled him over inside the box. A clear foul but referee Jeremy Simpson waved the appeals away.

It was an absorbing match.

The lively Brobbel had another good chance to score in the 67th minute, but he couldn’t get enough on the ball after good work, again, from Compton.

Town subs Andy Mangan and Jean-Louis Akpa-Akpro both shot from distance before Pools eventually sealed the win in the 79th minute.

A fast break down the left saw Franks play in Compton, who cut inside and delivered a perfect cross to the onrushing Walker who had pelted a good 60 plus yards to get there.

He powered the ball past Jayson Leutwiler to send the home fans into raptures.

Pools had done more than enough to win and had a second penalty shout - again on Brobbel - turned down late on.

He was bundled over from behind but nothing was given but in the end it didn’t matter.

Victory - which saw Pools rise two places to 18th - was secured and it tasted sweet.

A good day at the office then for Cooper’s side. The standard has now been set.