Pools analysis: Cambridge 0 Hartlepool United 1, what is it about the magic of March?
Just what is it with Hartlepool United and the month of March?
Why do Pools have to wait until the third month of the calendar to start playing?
Sorry to start the report of a memorable night with two questions.
Two years ago, the Great Escape was built on four straight wins in March.
Twelve months ago , Pools appeared hellbent on another crack at relegation, only to transform the season with an unbeaten run of four wins and two draws – in March.
And now Dave Jones is working the midas touch shown previously by his fellow sons of Liverpool, Ronnie Moore and Craig Hignett.
Pools clearly love the spring and how they loved last night’s trip to the Abbey Stadium, where Michael Woods ended a five-and-a-half month wait for an away victory.
The midfielder got on the end of a beautiful 63rd-minute move with the A-team, Padraig Amond and Lewis Alessandra, picking his spot superbly to beat Cambridge keeper Will Norris.
“It was a top quality goal,” purred Jones, who had seen his team lose all five of his away games to date.
“The movement was good and it was great to see the patterns we’ve been working on in training come to fruition
“Cambridge had come into this game off the back of a magnificent result [at Carlisle] but we’ve been brilliant. This wasn’t a smash and grab, we’ve deserved this.”
The win lifted Pools two places to 20th but the key number for the boys in blue is nine – the points gap between themselves and the bottom two. As Jones indicated, Cambridge came into this game in rude health, having stuck three past Carlisle on Saturday at Brunton Park.
But the measure of the way Pools outfought and outplayed them was that it took until the 68th minute for away keeper Joe Fryer to have to dirty his gloves and that was to collect a daisycutter from Matt Clark.
That tame shot was greeted by loud, ironic cheers from the frustrated home fans.
That may have contributed to Clark’s moment of madness when he clattered into Pools sub Nicky Deverdics three minutes later to earn a straight red card from referee Dean Whitestone.
But don’t think ‘Pools only won because they were playing 10 men’ – they were in control of this contest long before Clark was sent to test the temperature of the showers.
The Pools triumph was constructed on a tremendous display by the young defence of Kenton Richardson, fit-again Brad Walker, Scott Harrison and Liam Donnelly.
In front of them, the midfield were superb, led by the incredible Nicky Featherstone with Woods and Alessandra in front of him.
And when Pools were forced to re-shuffle following a thigh injury to Rhys Oates, Alessandra was moved forward to assist theexcellent Amond with Nicky Deverdics coming on and playing a blinder in midfield.
The first half was a turgid, forgettable affair, Nathan Thomas, who was as impressive in defenceas attack, going closest for Pools with a free-kick which just cleared the bar. Leon Legge and Luke Berry headed wide for the U’s but it was a comfortable first half for Joe Fryer in the away goal.
Pools made a bright start to the second period when Richardson played in a great ball from the right following a sharp bout of passing, but Cambridge managed to scramble it away.
The away side went close to a goal, courtesy of the hosts, when Legge almost headed past his own keeper with Norris produced a spectacular diving save to his left
But Pool did not have long to wait to score and it was a cracking goal.
Alessandra and Amond were the creators. Amond looked suspiciously offside but the flag stayed down and Woods strolled into the box and finished with aplomb from nine yards.
Cambridge went closewhen tricky Piero Mingoia’s cross was met by sub Paul Lewis only to see his header nodded off the line by Harrison.
Clark’s late and poor tackle on Deverdics gave Pools a man-advantage for the last 20 minutes and they soon had appeals for a penalty rejected in the 73rd minute when Scott Wharton seemed to handle from Deverdics who then put a free-kick over the bar.
Pools went close 10 minutes from time when Thomas flashed a shot wide.
The U’s had appeals for an injury-time penalty waved away when Lewis went down from Walker’s challenge, but the ref got it spot-on, if you pardon the pun. Pools were not to be denied and they are on the March!