Coupon-busting Hartlepool United fast becoming every bookie’s favourite team

Jack Compton turns away after scoring his goal against Exeter City. Picture by FRANK REID
Jack Compton turns away after scoring his goal against Exeter City. Picture by FRANK REID

ANOTHER game, another win, another coupon busted.

Hartlepool United must be every bookie’s favourite team after Saturday’s 3-0 victory against high-flying Exeter City, the latest of three away wins on the bounce which has seen Pools score eight and concede just the one.

Even the most positive of Pools fans wouldn’t have predicted this remarkable run of morale-boosting form, which has been squeezed into little over a week.

All three games looked like home bankers on paper but Colin Cooper has found a formation that gets the best out players reinvigorated from the side that started the season.

The league win against Mansfield Town and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy victory against Sheffield United was followed up at St James Park with arguably their most convincing performance yet.

Pools were slick in their passing, hungry for the ball, creative in possession and dominating in defence.

Aside from the opening stages, Pools dominated proceedings and any neutral would have thought it was the team in blue and white that sat third in the table at kick-off, not the home side.

Pools, who again lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation, were cheered on by 144 fans that had braved the 680-mile round trip to Devon.

But it was worth the gruelling trek thanks to goals from Jack Baldwin, Luke James and Jack Compton.

Tireless James was a constant thorn in Exeter’s side, Poole was the creative force in the “hole” but summer signing Compton was the star man. One goal, two assists.

The pacy winger was brimming with ideas and the home side were, in truth, unable to deal with him.

Cooper is, understandably, very guarded when questioned on the potential of the Pools team but he did admit to being “chuffed” with the way the past week has panned out.

And so he should be, because his system and style of play is really starting to click.

Poole looks like he has finally found his natural role in the side and there is pace throughout the forward line which is stretching defences and creating chances.

The football at times on Saturday was wonderful to watch. There was no sign of long ball. No sign of panic.

Just plenty of creativity and willingness to push forward.

That hasn’t always been the case but the challenge facing Cooper now is to replicate the away form at Victoria Park ahead of two crucial – and very winnable – home fixtures Plymouth Argyle and AFC Wimbledon.

Against Exeter, Cooper made two changes with Matthew Dolan returning from injury and Baldwin back from suspension. Darren Holden and Bradley Walker the unlucky two to drop down to the bench.

It shows the options now available to the manager that he is able to leave talents like Walker and Jonathan Franks out the side.

Paul Tisdale’s Exeter started brightly but it was James who could have given Pools the lead when he found himself in on goal in the opening stages.

Sadly for the 18-year-old, he fired his shot wide of the left-hand post and was almost made to pay in the 9th minute.

Alan Gow’s low right-footed drive deflected wide of the post for a corner by Scott Flinders.

Cooper’s men visibly grew in confidence and took a deserved – although slightly fortunate – lead in the 21st minute.

Simon Walton and Compton tried their best to fluff a short corner routine, which Cooper himself described as “very nearly a shambles”, only for the left winger to regain the ball and his composure and chip a lovely ball with the outsight of his left boot into the box.

There it was met by the head of Baldwin who flicked the ball home – to the delight of the away bench and travelling supporters.

Pools, who restricted Exeter to half chances, had other opportunities through Compton, Dolan and James, who was again put through but shot wide under pressure, in an entertaining first half.

United have developed a recent knack of scoring just at the right time and within five minutes of the restart were two goals up courtesy of a fantastic James lob, over Polish keeper Artur Krysiak.

The young terrier, who was on the end of a delightful cross field ball from Compton, took a touch and bravely lofted the ball over the advancing keeper, before being clattered in the box.

It was just rewards for another excellent and unselfish performance.

By the 62nd minute it was 3-0.

A determined Compton rounding off a superb individual performance with a crisp and clinical low half-volley after the ball broke free in the box.

Dumbfounded Exeter were unable to break through the well-drilled Pools defence as the clock ticked towards the 90-minute mark and, in truth, it was a comfortable second half performance for Cooper’s side.

Winning is a great habit and it is one Pools don’t want to be kicking anytime soon. For the bookies sake at least.