Richard Mennear’s match analysis: Hartlepool must build on crucial Cambridge win and finish the job

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WHEN Ronnie Moore arrived he said in order for Hartlepool United to stay up, he would have to win manager of the month at some point.

Well, after four consecutive wins to lift Pools out of the drop zone, surely the March gong belongs to Moore.

And the manager of the season if Pools do survive.

The month certainly belongs to Pools and it would be fitting if the man who has overseen the dramatic resurgence is rewarded.

The turnaround has been incredible – almost unbelievable.

But 12 consecutive points sees Pools out of the bottom two for the first time since October.

Five months they have languished and toiled at the foot of Sky Bet League Two.

Winning the odd match to build some hope before ruining it with a losing run.

Well, things have changed. And for the better.

Switching to 3-5-2, the form of Nicky Featherstone and Brad Walker and the solid defence are all good reasons why.

Hartlepool United bench and fans celebrated at the final whistle. Picture by FRANK REID

Hartlepool United bench and fans celebrated at the final whistle. Picture by FRANK REID

But the tone is set from the top.

Moore has remained positive and bullish throughout and now his side is playing with purpose, fight, determination, spirit and with a smile on their faces.

Crucially, the momentum is also with Pools going into the final seven matches.

But Moore is right to warn against over confidence.

Ronnie Moore should be manager of the month for March - and the season!

Pools writer Richard Mennear

The first part of the job was to bridge the nine point gap. That bit has been achieved in spectacular fashion.

The second part is to finish the job and secure the club’s Football League status.

Other results again went the right way, with Cheltenham and Carlisle United both losing and Tranmere Rovers drawing, while York City managed an impressive win at Mansfield.

But none of that will matter if Pools continue on their current upward curve and the signs are positive that they will.

A tough Easter weekend beckons, a tricky away trip to promotion-chasing Newport County on Good Friday before the visit of Southend United on Easter Monday, also in the play-offs.

But there is nothing to fear and another positive weekend would set them up nicely for the trip to York.

Jordan Hugill in action for Hartlepool United during their 2-1 home victory over Cambridge United Picture by FRANK REID

Jordan Hugill in action for Hartlepool United during their 2-1 home victory over Cambridge United Picture by FRANK REID

For now though, Pools can bask in the glory of a job well done in front of a packed Victoria Park.

The cut-price ticket offer by owners IOR has been well received in the past two games and the fans flocked through the turnstiles for the largest home crowd of the season.

It made a difference and the players are playing with renewed belief, desire and passion.

Ironically, Pools went bottom of the league back on October 25 after a 2-1 defeat at Cambridge United – Paul Murray’s first match as manager.

A lot has changed since then and the return fixture saw Pools claw themselves out of the relegation zone at a windswept Victoria Park.

The only change to the side saw on-loan Preston North End striker Jordan Hugill handed his debut, up front with Jonathan Franks.

And he impressed, a willing runner, up for a battle with the centre-half and had a sight on goal.

Ryan Bird’s departure was a major blow but Moore looks to have pulled another rabbit out of the hat with Hugill’s arrival.

Bird didn’t travel to the North-East with his Cambridge colleagues, Richard Money opting to leave him behind.

Just as well, from a Pools perspective, as he had been in good form during his loan spell at The Vic.

Pools started the match well and their early pressure paid off in the 20th minute – although there was some confusion over who scored the goal.

Franks produced the cross, which was poorly punched clear by Chris Dunn to the head of Walker who powered the ball high into the roof of the net.

The ball hit Hugill on the way in but it went down as Walker’s – his second in a week.

Cambridge, who had struggled to dominate the midfield early on, hit the post through Liam Hughes before Matt Harrold equalised just past the half hour mark.

From a Hughes throw in, the ball fell to the striker and from an angle, he hit it low past Scott Flinders.

Credit to Pools though, they didn’t deflate and kept surging forward against the wind.

And Hugill almost notched on his debut, Franks’ corner was met by the on-loan striker six yards out but he blazed his volley high into the Town End.

Cambridge switched to a 3-5-2 after the break to match Pools.

But it was the home side that looked more dangerous, with the wind now behind them.

Franks was guilty of missing the game’s best chance, he hesitated chasing a long ball into the area and the chance passed him by, prodding the ball wide of the post.

The forward was full of running though and the winner came from his deep 67th minute corner.

The ball broke to Harrison who took a touch before firing a powerful volley past Dunn – his first professional goal.

The closest Cambridge came was a half chance for sub Jordan Slew as Pools battled against the wind and eight minutes of added on time.

Supporters couldn’t believe their ears, there had been stoppages for Dan Jones, Hugill and Aaron Tshibola but it seemed excessive.

Pools have become dab hands at seeing out time and they did it comfortably enough again.

This season has been one of turmoil for supporters with three managers and a failed takeover bid to contend with plus a 25-match run of being bottom of the league.

It has been a long winter of discontent.

But as the clocks went forward and with summer on the horizon, the future finally looks a little brighter.

The league table certainly does.

Pools (3-5-2): Flinders (C), Austin, Harrison, Mirfin, D Jones, Duckworth, Featherstone, Walker, Tshibola (Hawkins, 79), Hugill (Harewood, 88), Franks.

Subs Not Used: Maxted, Richards, J Jones, Nelson-Addy, Smith.

Booked: Walker (90)

Scorer: Walker (20), Harrison (67)

Cambridge (4-4-2): Dunn, Tait (Simpson, 68), Coulson, Miller (C), Dunk, Donaldson, Champion, Hughes, Hunt (Kaikai, 77), Elliott, Harrold (Slew, 77).

Subs Not Used: Lanzoni, Norris, Nelson, Morrissey.

Booked: None

Scorer: Harrold (33)

Referee: Andy Haines (Tyne & Wear)

Attendance: 5,009 (269 Cambridge)

Brad Walker celebrates his goal for Hartlepool United during their 2-1 home victory over Cambridge United Picture by FRANK REID

Brad Walker celebrates his goal for Hartlepool United during their 2-1 home victory over Cambridge United Picture by FRANK REID