Richard Mennear’s match analysis: Hartlepool United 1 Sheffield United 2

HEAD OVER HEELS: Michael Duckworth celebrates his goal against Sheffield United . Picture by FRANK REID
HEAD OVER HEELS: Michael Duckworth celebrates his goal against Sheffield United . Picture by FRANK REID

CHANGE is in the air at Victoria Park.

Not only in the dugout but also on the field of play if last night’s performance is anything to go by.

Kieran Green in action against Sheffield United . Picture by FRANK REID

Kieran Green in action against Sheffield United . Picture by FRANK REID

Caretaker boss Sam Collins gave youth a chance and despite the defeat to Nigel Clough’s Sheffield United, the youngsters flourished and it was refreshing to see.

It was a smart move by Collins to give the likes of Dan Jones, Lewis Hawkins and Kieran Green a start against the Blades.

Pools have been stale and predictable in recent weeks, lacking in goals and creativity which has seen them slump to the bottom of the Football League

But last night’s second round Johnstone Paint Trophy tie at The Vic was a welcome change from the league and a chance for the fringe players to impress.

Sam Collins looks on against Sheffield United. Picture by FRANK REID

Sam Collins looks on against Sheffield United. Picture by FRANK REID

They didn’t disappoint.

Jones looked steady at left-back, Hawkins looked bright on the right wing and Green put in a positive performance alongside 35-year-old Tommy Miller.

Their energy and enthusiasm contributed to a much more brighter Pools and one Collins was happy with.

It was no surprise Collins turned to youth – he is, after all, the reserve team coach and knows the players well.

How long he will be picking the team remains up in the air following Colin Cooper’s resignation on Saturday.

Technically it is Collins and Stephen Pears in joint control of team affairs, but it was the 37-year-old veteran defender that was prowling the touchline.

He clearly enjoyed his night in the spotlight but far tougher tests face this team in the coming weeks.

Collins spoke with great passion after the match and he admits he loves the club and would love to be manager.

When that day will be remains to be seen but he did his chances no harm last night.

Graham Kavanagh, who has held talks with the club over taking the manager’s seat on a short-term basis, was again in the stands at Victoria Park.

For the time being though that honour falls to caretaker bosses, Collins and Pears.

The pair made four changes with neither Marlon Harewood or Matthew Bates named in the squad – perhaps a sign of things to come under the interim managers.

Collins looked in charge and he opted for a 4-3-3 formation, with on-loan Boro striker Charlie Wyke leading the line.

It was a youthful side and one which the sparse crowd inside The Vic were getting behind.

Some fans had made it clear beforehand they were going to be boycotting the match in a protest against the owners but it was hard to tell exactly how many are crowds are often low for the JPT.

The first chance came in the 18th minute, Chris Porter found himself in space on the right wing and he played in the onrushing Louis Reed, who curled his short inches wide of captain Scott Flinders’ right post.

Ryan Brobbel saw a deflected shot curl into the hands of Iain Turner with 25 minutes gone.

There was plenty of probing but little in the way of clear-cut chances for either side.

That was until the 30th minute when Jose Baxter showed quick feet on the edge of the area to evade a couple of challenges before curling a low right-footed shot into the bottom right corner.

Pools kept their heads up though and continued to press and be positive – the lively Brobbel jinked his way into the box in the 38th minute but curled his shot just wide.

The Blades went in leading 1-0 at the break but the opening 45 minutes had been much improved from a young Pools side, who looked bright going forward.

Those fans that did make the game witnessed the rarest of things five minutes into the second half – a Michael Duckworth goal.

Sixteen months he has waited for his first professional goal and he celebrated his deflected strike from the edge of the area in style with two somersaults in front of the Town End.

It was nothing more than Pools deserved and it visibly lifted the players and the crowd.

On the hour mark, however, the Blades should have gone back in front.

Three of their forwards missed open goals in the same passage of play, with a block from Flinders and Harrison helping keep the scores level. Porter then slashed a shot wide when it looked easier to score.

Wyke almost netted his fourth goal for Pools in the 70th minute after an excellent flowing move by Pools.

Miller played in Woods down the left who crossed towards the onrushing Wyke only to see the striker somehow head the ball backwards from six yards out when he should have buried it.

Pools were made to rue that miss in the 82nd minute as Jamal Campbell-Ryce put the Blades 2-1 ahead with a cooly-struck low finish from the right-hand side of the penalty area.

Brobbel had a late effort from distance in injury time but his low show was down the throat of Turner, who held comfortably as Clough’s side saw the game out.

There was no shame in losing to a League One side and it was a far more positive, creative and energetic display by Pools.

Fans will have a clearer picture of what the future, in the short-term at least, will look like in the coming days.

But the club could do far worse than give Collins a stab at the manager’s job.

He was bold and had nothing to lose.

Pools need to show the same attitude in the league, starting with Exeter City away on Saturday.