Dominic Scurr's verdict: The unique turning point that helped Hartlepool United secure a 3-2 comeback victory over Harrogate Town
It was business as usual for Hartlepool United at Victoria Park as they continued their unbeaten start to the season at home with a 3-2 win over Harrogate Town.
Well, it was ‘business as usual’ in terms of the result but perhaps that phrase doesn’t quite do the match itself justice as Pools came from 2-0 down at half-time to turn the game on its head and lead 3-2 in a frantic six minute spell which secured a first ever competitive victory over Harrogate at the sixth attempt.
A George Thomson strike and Neill Byrne own goal had the visitors seemingly well in control at the break before goals from David Ferguson, Mark Cullen and Matty Daly helped Pools secure three points from the jaws of defeat.
The build-up to Saturday’s match was dominated by the return of Luke Armstrong to Victoria Park.
It was the Harrogate striker’s first time back at Hartlepool since helping the club secure promotion to the Football League back in June.
He arrived as the top scorer in League Two with eight goals in 13 games.
And after scoring 15 goals for Pools on their way to promotion, including the opening goal in the play-off final, Armstrong's efforts didn't go unappreciated by the Poolies as they gave the 25-year-old a warm round of applause prior to kick-off.
Dave Challinor was forced into one change from Tuesday night's 3-1 win at Bradford City. Goalkeeper Ben Killip was a late fitness doubt and dropped to the bench in place of Jonathan Mitchell, who made his league debut.
Pools remained in their 4-4-2 diamond set-up seen at Valley Parade and it helped them get off to a strong start.
Pools thought they'd taken the lead after 12-minutes as a short corner was drilled towards the bottom right corner from Luke Molyneux. The strike looked to be goalbound before Byrne poked it in on the line only to be denied by the offside flag.
It would have been no less than Pools deserved after an energetic start to the game which saw Cullen and Luke Hendrie also come close.
Harrogate had a goal disallowed themselves as Sunderland loanee Jack Diamond was penalised for offside.
And it was the visitors who took the lead inside the opening half-hour as Armstrong’s flick on wasn’t cleared which allowed Jack Muldoon to tee up Thomson to smash the ball high into Mitchell's net from close range.
Shortly after, Pools were dealt an injury blow as Jamie Sterry was forced off with Reagan Ogle coming on.
Things quickly went from bad to worse for the hosts as a Ryan Fallowfield delivery was turned into the back of the net by a sliding Byrne.
Another soft goal for Pools to concede and it could have got even worse for them in the very next attack as Armstrong’s low cross was met well by Diamond at the back post but Mitchell made himself big to block the close range strike with a fine save to just about keep his side in the game.
It would prove to be a huge save in hindsight.
Out of very little, Pools found themselves 2-0 down at the break, the first time they’d trailed by at least two goals at home in front of supporters under Challinor.
It would have been easy for the fans to boo or turn on the side, as they would have previously.
But when the half-time whistle blew, something quite unique happened with some Poolies giving a muted applause as the players went in at the break.
Pools may have been 2-0 down, but the belief remained.
Despite a disastrous 15-minute spell to end the first half, that moment felt like a turning point in the afternoon when looking back.
Never say die, after all.
The Poolies had shown the returning Armstrong a lot of respect so far, almost as if they were proving a point by showing ‘this is what you could have had’.
Half-time saw Gary Liddle return from injury and come onto the pitch in place of Mark Shelton which prompted a formation change to 3-5-2.
Liddle hadn’t lost a match at Victoria Park since March 2020 and that wasn’t about to change. It’s almost as if he came on and said ‘don’t worry lads, we’ll sort this out’ as Pools looked far more calm and assured after the restart.
Still they were in for a scare as Thomson thought he’d made it 3-0 straight from a corner only for referee Simon Mather to blow for a foul on Mitchell. The third disallowed goal of the day.
But Pools found a way back into the game in the 52nd-minute as David Ferguson arrived on the corner of the six-yard box to volley in Ogle’s cross for his second goal in as many home games.
"He definitely needs to do it [more], he's got a goal bonus in his contract!” Challinor commented.
A minute later, another cross from the right, this time from Hendrie, was glanced in by Cullen for his third goal of the week.
Just like that it was 2-2 and with the momentum behind them, Pools not only sensed their opportunity to win, they seized it.
Six-minutes later, Daly collected Liddle’s pass and cut inside from the right before arcing the ball beautifully into the top left corner of the goal from 25-yards out to make it 3-2 – just like that.
From that point, Pools were able to see it out rather comfortably as they nullified Harrogate’s threat to secure their sixth home win in seven games this season.
The result also takes Pools back into the play-off places and level on points with Harrogate.
Ultimately back to back wins have been the difference between a great start and an average start.
The match itself proved to be a fitting send off to fan favourite Ian Gallagher on his last game as Pools’ physio – for now at least!