Richard Mennear’s match analysis: Hartlepool’s Never Say Die attitude pays off as Pools pull off the Great Escape with a game to spare

Hartlepool United manager Ronnie Moore celebrating in front of the Pools fans after the 2-1 win over Exeter City which saw Pools retain their Football League status. Picture by FRANK REID

Hartlepool United manager Ronnie Moore celebrating in front of the Pools fans after the 2-1 win over Exeter City which saw Pools retain their Football League status. Picture by FRANK REID

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EVERYWHERE you look at Victoria Park is the phrase ‘Never Say Die.’

It is displayed on a large banner, in the matchday programme, on the players’ shirts, even on the corner flags.

The phrase epitomises what Hartlepool United supporters think of their club – never give in, never say die.

And so it was fitting that victory over Exeter City – a crucial, historic win that secured the club’s Football League status – was as much about heart and spirit as it was technical ability.

Both goals scored by Scott Fenwick and Jordan Hugill were well finished.

But it was the desire the pair showed – alongside their nine teammates – that really shone through.

The 2014-15 season has been one to forget in many ways, what with three managers, a failed takeover and a five-month stint at the foot of the league table.

Yet in the end, it turned out to be one of the most memorable in the club’s proud history.

Hartlepool United has been a league club for 94 years and thanks to one of THE greatest escapes, that will continue come August.

Pools supporters would never have believed it when the club was 10 points from safety a few weeks back, propping up the other 23 teams and heading for the Conference.

Scott Fenwick scores the opening goal of the game against Exeter City. Picture by FRANK REID

Scott Fenwick scores the opening goal of the game against Exeter City. Picture by FRANK REID

Boss Ronnie Moore, reflecting after the Exeter win, even admitted the players had lost all hope at that stage.

But then came four straight wins, a run which saw Pools climb out of the bottom two, never to return.

There have been many twists and turns but in the end the players pulled it off.

Never Say Die, indeed.

Pools fans hold up blue and white placards

Pools fans hold up blue and white placards

An elated Moore, who should be recognised for what he has done for the town, summed it up in the aftermath.

Moore said: “Never Say Die – that’s what it is all about.

“You don’t need the best 11 players in the division. But you can have the best team. We didn’t at Rotherham but we had the Dirty Dozen!

“That’s what we need to bring here now, get two of three class players in and it makes a difference.”

It is certainly going to be a busy summer, with the loan players returning and the remaining Pools players being released or rewarded with new deals.

But one thing is for sure, as much as the Great Escape has thrilled us all, lessons need to be learned so it avoids happening again.

Goalscorers Jordan Hugill and Scott Fenwick celebrate

Goalscorers Jordan Hugill and Scott Fenwick celebrate

For now though, the players and coaching staff can bask in the glory of a job well done.

And enjoy a few days off before returning for the final game at Carlisle United.

Finally, a game that Bob Marley-clad supporters can enjoy.

And those long-suffering fans certainly deserve it. Just shy of 5,000 were inside The Vic, nervously anticipating what was to come.

They turned up in their blue colours and held up blue and white placards as the teams emerged to a wall of noise.

It fell silent as a minute’s remembrance was held for the victims of the Bradford Fire but then the volume was pumped up as play got underway.

With injured David Mirfin missing, Moore brought Matthew Bates into central defence alongside Players’ and Supporters’ Player of the Year Scott Harrison.

Jack Compton was also restored, as Moore went with an attacking 4-4-2 system.

The atmosphere was electric and it lifted the Pools players, who were showing plenty of fight.

Hugill a little more than necessary as he was booked after just eight minutes following a rash challenge.

The hosts got the breakthrough they were looking for after just 15 minutes.

Hugill rose highest to flick the ball on, Jordan Moore-Taylor slipped and Fenwick took full advantage, keeping his cool to pass the ball into the corner of the net.

Just the start Moore wanted, yet the lead lasted less than two minutes.

Shambolic defending let Paul Tisdale’s Exeter side back in the game.

Liam Sercombe whipped in a corner, Graham Cummins was free six yards out but his header was palmed wide by the strong hand of Scott Flinders.

Lesson learnt you’d think but then Exeter produced a carbon copy and again Cummins found himself free, this time heading home.

Fenwick then saw a close-range shot blocked by Exeter stopper James Hamon, a great save to deny the Pools striker.

It was predictably tight but the season-defining moment came on the stroke of half-time.

Reading loanee Aaron Tshibola did well to win the ball on the half-way line, showing great composure before playing in Hugill who finished well from the edge of the area. 2-1 Pools. Dreamland for supporters.

With the Great Escape theme raining down, Pools enjoyed a strong period of pressure at the start of the second half.

Despite Hugill and Fenwick working the defence hard, they couldn’t capitalise and then Pools began to sit deeper and deeper.

The intensity level was almost unbearable but thanks to a strong Pools back-line, well drilled by Moore and Sam Collins, they held firm.

Harrison outstanding.

Subs Marlon Harewood and Tommy Miller – making his 600th career appearance – played their part as Pools pressed, Fenwick seeing an effort blocked before an almighty scramble almost saw Exeter draw level.

Pools held on.

As referee Carl Boyeson blew the final whistle, hundreds of delirious supporters – young and old – raced onto the pitch.

It was an outpouring of nine months’ worth of emotion.

A nervous wait then ensued as it became clear both games involving relegation rivals Tranmere Rovers and Cheltenham Town were still being played.

Finally, confirmation they’d both lost.

Somehow, against all the odds, Pools had achieved the unthinkable. The Great Escape was complete. And with a game to spare.

Bob Marley was right all along, “Don’t worry about a thing.

Because every little thing, is gonna be alright.”

The Pools players and coaching staff wait for results from elsewhere

The Pools players and coaching staff wait for results from elsewhere