A launchpad or a false dawn?
We may well find out by 4.55pm this Saturday whether this excellent performance will count for anything.
Pools were great all over the park.
Hartlepool United came within four minutes of taking big-spending Derby County to a lucrative FA Cup third round replay, a deserved one a that.
That was until Darren Bent got on the end of a cross from £1.25 million signing from France, Abdoul Camara, just four minutes from time.
The former Sunderland striker, whose career transfers total almost £50 million, turned back the clock with a clinical left-foot finish which gave his old Black Cats team-mate Trevor Carson no chance.
It broke the hearts of Pools and the hopes of the fans who had witnessed Jake Gray having given Pools the lead with a great volley, only for supersub Jacob Butterfield to level.
Sadly there was to be no Pride Park, just pride. Plenty of pride.
However, Pools must turn that pride, that promise, into League Two points this Saturday against Wycombe at Victoria Park.
Pools were great all over the park – from the incredible Carson in goal to the lads up top. And while they may not have carved out a million chances, they applied plenty of pressure – if they do that in the league surely there will be no worries about their status in the division.
Don’t be fooled by any sceptics saying “but Derby made 10 changes”.
The County starting XI featured SIX internationals with 107 caps between them.
Derby’s starting frontline not only contained Darren Bent but two strikers Paul Clement paid over £4million for this week, Nick Blackman and Abdoul Camara.
This was a seriously good Rams team and Clement had the luxury of bringing on three high-class subs in Johnny Russell, Jacob Butterfield and Andreas Weimann – two of them internationals.
Pools gave Derby the fight and fright of their lives and they were mighty relieved to steal that result.
Given Pools matched them for long periods in the tie should give the home players a major infusion of belief.
So often this season, Pools have been blighted by too many off-days throughout the side.
Not this time – there were no weak links. The defence, despite two changes – Scott Harrison in for the injured Matthew Bates at centre-half and Jordan Richards having his first start of the season at right-back – coped admirably with a potent County front line.
The midfield trio of Nicky Featherstone, Michael Woods and Jake Gray proved highly-effective.
Featherstone held the unit together, with Woods full of running and Gray constantly on the front foot, gettoing forward at every opportunity.
Ronnie Moore sprung a surprise by selecting Lewis Hawkins in the ‘Kal Naismith role’ and the 22-year-old was a revelation, positive going forward and disciplined when Derby had the ball.
If the Middlesbrough-born Pools product can carry on in this vein, Moore need not look for a new player in that position.
Hawkins was straight into his stride and won Pools a corner after 66 seconds. Given Derby’s volume of changes, the hosts needed to be at them from the start.
Pools did not disappoint, Gray a threat in the middle, almost playing in Rhys Oates, who was thwarted by a well-timed double tackle from Stephen Warnock and Jake Buxton.
Derby made their first visit to the Pools box in the 19th minute when Bent’s shot was saved by Carson.
It took the Rams – with three debutants – time to warm up but when they did they looked rather hot.
Only a brilliant 42nd-minute Carson save kept out Nick Blackman, who then had two shots deflected for corners.
Derby were dominant in the latter stages of the half, just as they had been at Middlesbrough the previous Saturday. But, like Boro, Pools rode their luck and survived.
There was some nice football from Pools after the break but there was a horrible miss-cue from Gray and a left-footer into the Town End by Featherstone.
But Pools were looking good. So too were Derby who had brought on Russell at the break. Camara, who could not get a corner into play in the first half with his favoured left peg, then rattled the home bar from 20 yards with his right.
However, he was shown how it was done by Gray on the hour.
Woods picked up the ball near half way and took off on a determined run. He ran and ran before chipping over the most delightful of crosses, which Gray volleyed into keeper’s top left corner from eight yards.
Alas, the euphoria did not last. Clement turned to another star on the bench, bringing on Butterfield in the 66th minute.
And the former Boro midfielder made an immediate and stunning impact.
He exchanged passes with Russell, made the smallest spaces to shoot and unleashed a right-foot shot from outside the box which flew beyond Carson’s dive to his right.
Pools were undaunted and seconds later they were close to levelling, Hawkins just going over the bar after an exciting run.
There were appeals for a penalty after Adam Jackson claimed he was impeded in the box and there were more screams after Scott Fenwick went down.
Bent thought he had won it only for Carson to pull off a point-blank save
It was end-to-end stuff and six minutes from time, Pools sub Brad Walker linked up with Hawkins to play a teasing cross which Fenwick, agonisingly, could not reach.
Still, Pools had a replay, didn’t they? Bent had other ideas, but Pools have hope, now they must repeat this display, starting on Saturday.