Hartlepool have plenty to play for in final ‘mini-league’

Adam Jackson and Michael Woods in action for Pools against York
Adam Jackson and Michael Woods in action for Pools against York

You often hear about managers and pundits talking about mini-leagues in a season.

Now you will read a local newspaper hack talking about it!

The aggregate score from the corresponding fixtures is 10-2 after four defeats of varying severity.

Hartlepool United are about to enter one such phase - the final four matches of a highly-interesting season will be against four of League Two’s top six.

Pools have already done incredibly well in the bigger league, having passed the 50-point barrier at the weekend with this close-run victory against York City who, sadly, will soon be saying adios to the Football League again.

Hands up those of you who expected Pools to have 51 points by this stage of the campaign.

This reporter will be honest and say I was not sure Pools would get 51 all season after watching the drubbing at Bristol Rovers.

However, it shows what this never-was-a-footballer knows and shows what a gem of a manager Pools have in Craig Hignett.

And the players are not bad either.

Which will make the next four matches, this mini-league, all the more intriguing.

Pools kick off a sequence of games against the clubs fourth, second, sixth and fifth in the table, Accrington (H), Oxford (A), Portsmouth (H) and Plymouth (A).

The aggregate score from the corresponding fixtures is 10-2 after four defeats of varying severity.

But, as said previously, this is a different Pools under Hignett and his loyal lieutenant, Curtis Fleming.

They are harder to beat or, more pertinently, score against, while they are piling up the goals, 24 in 16 matches under Hignett, compared to 24 in the previous 25 fixtures.

On paper, you would not expect Pools to win any of the next four - they have nothing to play for and their opponents have everything to play for.

However, Hignett will be keen for his players to make their mark.

Despite the tight nature of Saturday’s win over York, there was still enough to take from the game into tomorrow night’s visit of Accrington.

Pools have shown many attributes over the recent weeks and there was another quality against the Minstermen - patience.

They had to be patient given they were repelled on numerous occasions by former keeper Scott Flinders.

It had looked promising though for Pools when Nathan Thomas put them ahead in the 24th minute.

The corner from Lewis Hawkins was hardly in the David Beckham category but it scuffed its way to Thomas whose left-foot shot found Flinders’ left corner.

And when York were reduced to 10 men in the 35th minute it seemed Pools would go on and get a hatful.

However, it did not go to script. Dave Winfield had given them a helping hand with two ludicrous challenges.

First, he ‘clotheslined’ Luke James on the edge of the box, which could have been worthy of a red card on its own.

Surely he would keep his nose clean after that? No, he lunged in on Thomas, even though the forward was ‘going nowhere’.

After getting nowhere near the ball, he was booked again, possibly for stupidity, and referee Seb Stockbridge used the red card to point to the tunnel.

But there was to be no rout, even though Pools pressed for a second goal.

Michael Duckworth, pressed into action further up the field in place of the rested Jake Gray, had two chances.

Both times he was thwarted by Flinders, his old team-mate first saving with his feet and the second an acrobatic diving stop to his left.

And it was York, fighting for survival got the next goal, defender Kyle Cameron heading in unhindered from Luke Summerfield’s corner in the opening seconds off first-half added-time.

Pools appeared strangely subdued after the break, but they did regain their rhythm and began to trouble Flinders.

Unfortunately for the home side, the York stopper was proving a real nuisance.

He kept out a Woods shot from a Hawkins pull-back and made a superb save from the midfielder following a James knockdown.

James, looking to build on his first Pools goal the previous Saturday at Morecambe, also went just wide with a diving header.

But that Pools patience eventually brought a reward in the 72nd minute.

The boys in blue knocked the ball around nicely, affording Magnay acres of space and time to deliver a cross.

It was perfect and Woods glanced it home at the far post with Flinders finally subdued.

Not that he was willing to see York cave in, producing a breathtaking save to tip over a stunning James’ control, turn and shot from the edge of the Rink End box.

However, Pools were grateful to the glovework of Trevor Carson who marked signing a three-year-contract with a good save of his own.

Ex-Pools loan man Luke Hendrie, grateful to see the back of Thomas, was able to get forward down the York right several times and from one run got a decent shot in on goal.

Carson got down smartly to his left to pull off the stop and patient Pools had the three points.

Roll on that mini-league.