Pools battlers showed true grit - despite all hell breaking loose

Keith Houchen - Pools boss in 1996.
Keith Houchen - Pools boss in 1996.

Pretty football is all well and good - but it is results which count in the long run.

Pools boss Keith Houchen believed - with justification - that his new-look side back in 1996 could play football.

Joe Allon in aerial action for Hartlepool against Hereford United.

Joe Allon in aerial action for Hartlepool against Hereford United.

But it was only after a match on September 7 that his suspicions they could also battle for vital points were confirmed.

“Pools travelled to Edgar Street determined not to hand Hereford United the game on a plate,” reported the Mail.

Within minutes of kick-off Pools were battling for possession of the ball in a game which would eventually see all hell let loose.

The team created little up front during a game which left both sides “reasonably pleased” with their defences - and could easily have ended 0-0.

Pretty football is all well and good - but it is results which count in the long run.

Hartlpool Mail in 1996

But when David Clegg gave Stephen Halliday his only clear-cut chance of the day five minutes from time, he gleefully smashed the ball past Andy deBont.

“This was not a day for an expansive passing game, with Mark Cooper and Chris Beech having to set aside their ball-playing skills for sheer hard graft and some crunching tackling,” reported the Mail.

“Clegg, again given a free role behind strikers Joe Allon and Halliday, looked as dangerous as anyone on the pitch, while sweeper Barron’s ability to read the game allowed him to be in exactly the right place at the right time on the rare occasions defenders Glen Davies and Chris McDonald needed a helping hand.”

In a relatively uneventful first half, neither goalkeeper was troubled to any great extent - although deBont had to tip over a curling Clegg effort after the young midfielder broke clear on the edge of the penalty area.

Pools goalie Stephen Pears had the woodwork to thank when Adrian Foster’s 38th minute header from a Murray Fishlock free-kick thundered against the bar and was hacked clear by Davies.

Gareth Stoker gave the home fans some hope when he fired into the side-netting from Chris Hargreaves’ flick on the hour, and defender Dean Smith directed a header from another Fishlock free-kick straight at Pears.

But the game looked to be heading towards a draw until “all hell broke loose” with just six minutes on the clock - when Foster’s 84th-minute shot ended up in the Pools net, only to be disallowed for a clear offside.

Hereford were then left licking their wounds 60 seconds later, when Clegg brilliantly brought down a long ball, fed it to Halliday - who scored. “It was an unstoppable shot,” said the Mail.

They think it’s all over - but they’re wrong...

Leaving Victoria Park before the final whistle was a dangerous business in 1996.

Indeed, supporters who deserted the terraces early during games in September that year missed two remarkable finishes.

Most would have been glad not to witness Carlisle’s “rampant” final assault on September 12, which saw the away team snatch three points.

But Pools’ new-found powers of recovery came to the fore in an explosive finale against Wigan on September 14 - resulting in a 1-1 scoreline.

“In an uneventful first half, Pools never really got to grips with their opponents, and Wigan were quicker to settle,” reported the Mail.

“It took Pools boss Keith Houchen just 35 minutes to change the pattern, replacing an injured Davies and switching to a 4-4-2 formation.

“The manager himself went close with two headers just before the break, but that was all his side had to show in a distinctly ordinary 45 minutes.”

The second half saw Stephen Pears fighting to keep out several goal attempts, until an unfortunate ball deflection from Michael Barron crept past him.

“As the final seconds ticked away, Pools threw everything they had at Wigan, and got their reward in the nick of time,” said the Mail.

“Cooper grabbed a loose ball inside the penalty area and, by lobbing it over goalie Lee Butler, clinched Pools a point.”