ANALYSIS: Hartlepool United and Jeff Stelling are both on great journeys
Hartlepool United's most celebrated fan kicked off the most important walk of his life this morning.
Jeff Stelling departed Victoria Park on the Men United March – the first of his 10 marathons which will end with him striding towards Wembley after 260 tortuous miles.
But the result, as they say, will be all important – Sir Jeff and his troops will be walking to save lives by raising a lot of cash for the Prostate Cancer UK fund.
It will be some trip for Jeff and Pools chief executive, Russ Green, who will be treading every step with the club president.
And while they go through the fatigue barrier on the roads and footpaths of England, their beloved team’s tortuous journey in League Two is starting to look that bit more pleasurable than painful.
Pools continued their progress with a hard-earned, but deserved, draw at Crawley Town.
A beautiful exhibition of football it was not, but it’s another point closer to the peaceful surroundings of the lower mid-table area.
Just under three weeks ago, Pools seemed to be walking the plank. Thrashed 4-1 at Bristol Rovers, they were just two points above the dreaded drop zone.
It was not an exaggeration to say that it was hard to imagine where the next point was coming from.
However, there was nothing to worry about.
Since that collapse at the Memorial Stadium, Craig Hignett’s rejuvenated side are unbeaten in four matches – the best league run of the season.
Pools have reeled off back-to-back 3-1 wins followed by two goalless draws from long away days at Newport County and Crawley.
The team has had the chances to win all four, but let’s not get greedy!
Yes, Pools got lucky on Saturday at the Broadfield Stadium or Checkatrade.com Stadium in new money.
Red Devils centre-half Sonny Bradley had one of those Ronny Rosenthal moments a player has once in a lifetime.
The match had gone beyond it’s advertised three minutes of stoppage time when Gavin Tomlin got the ball into the Pools six-yard box.
Like Rosenthal’s open goal at Villa Park all those years ago, it was easier to score. At least the Liverpool striker hit the woodwork, Tomlin could not convert from three yards, with his best tool – his head – in the last play of the game.
It would have been harsh on Pools had it gone in.
Bradley’s gaffe was one of the few opportunities of the afternoon.
It was a little like Groundhog Day for Pools following their draw at Newport four days earlier.
The surface was not ideal for football and there was an icy wind blowing down the field.
Both sides struggled to stretch the opposition keeper. Pools had the better of play possession in the first half, but the final delivery was not the best, including from set-pieces which was a little annoying. You could not really blame the conditions for that, could you?
Nathan Thomas – who else – looked the man most likely to break the stalemate.
A cracking left-footer from 20 yards whistle just wide of Paul Jones’s right stick and another attempt soon after was deflected for a corner by a home defender.
Crawley had their moments, though not many, Lyle Della-Verde heading a Gwion Edwards cross wide before shooting harmlessly into the away end.
The second half was better – it could not have been worse – and Pools had two gilt-edged chances within seconds of each other.
A nice passage of pressure ended with Thomas sliding a pass across the box for Jake Gray. It had his seventh goal of the season written all over it, but the midfielder could not connect.
But the ball dropped nicely to Thomas whose right-foot follow-up was deflected onto the bar by the diving Jones.
Crawley’s only threat came via an incredible Pools giveaway in the 64th minute.
The livewire Thomas, not for the first time, won his side a free-kick in opposition territory. Pools were well on top so where do you think they played the set-piece? Into the home box, right?
Wrong. The ball was played square into the centre-circle where Carl Magnay lost possession, allowing the Reds to race forward with a 2v1 situation.
Trevor Carson saved Pools with a brilliant diving stop to his right from an Edwards drive and then an even better recovery by getting to the loose ball first and palming it away for a corner.
Thomas could not take advantage of a break of his own which ended with multiple step-overs and an horrific right-foot shot.
Crawley threatened following the introduction of subs Simon Walton and Shamir Fenenol, the latter proving a handful.
But the Pools defence and Carson refused to buckle.
Walton almost aided his former club in added time. Thomas (again) won his side a free-kick, Walton hacking down the 21-year-old before being rightly booked for having the temerity to show dissent for one of the clearest fouls of the afternoon.
It’s at this point that this chubby footballing failure would disagree with the highly-decorated and intelligent Pools boss.
With a minute of three stoppage-time minutes already elapsed, this reporter would have stuck the ball in the corner in a cynical ploy to play out time and take the point. Not Pools.
Sub Brad Walker’s free-kick was beaten back out by Jones and the midfielder skied his follow-up shot.
It allowed Crawley one last hurrah and they almost took it. Paynter made a brave block from point-blank range but the cross still came across the six-yard box.
However, the hapless Bradley could not direct his header into the away net.
Defeat for the men in luminous green would have been unjust.
They deserved a share of the spoils and Pools, like Stelling and Green, are going in the right direction.