THE worst Pools team I have seen in 66 years.
Not the words of this (considerably) younger Hartlepool United watcher.
No, it was the angry reaction Pools boss Colin Cooper and assistant Craig Hignett received from a fan in the Cyril Knowles Stand in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s home defeat to Oxford.
You pay your money for your seat or season ticket and are entitled to your say.
But clearly the supporter has had his eyes closed for some of the last six decades.
This reporter’s memory stretches to over 30 years and there have been much worse sides than the one currently on show.
Of course it is frustrating for fans – the last three years they have had to witness more defeats than wins at their beloved Victoria Park.
These are early days for Cooper and Hignett, they are still really on their honeymoon.
Should any man be disturbed on their honeymoon? This writer is not sure and seemingly neither are the majority of fans.
There were some boos at full-time but it was hard to tell if that was a reaction to the defeat or the injury-time mayhem of one penalty award, a red-card and a non-penalty award and a booking for simulation. All against Pools.
Also, there were a few boos at half-time and just one lone shout before kick-off when Simon Walton’s name was announced.
Cooper and Hignett may need a long honeymoon.
The Pools management are building a new side and a young side, with little in the way of financial resources.
There will be no expensive signings or, crucially, wages, the squad will, hopefully, evolve over time and the supporters will get to see a bright young team playing bright football.
Saturday’s match is proof that there will be no quick fixes.
For the first 40 minutes, Pools were second best to a very strong and lively Oxford side, who made a mockery of this writer’s pre-match prediction that the hosts might be catching a wounded U’s at the wright time.
Wrong, they were a level above Pools and were full value for their one-goal lead.
But the introduction of James Poole brought an energy to Pools and for the next 25 minutes they took the game to their high-flying visitors in some style.
Unfortunately, only one goal came and Pools were hit by a sucker punch from which they did not really recover.
An injury-time penalty only served to flatter the U’s further.
When Pools come to disect Saturday’s game some may end up watching through their fingers, horror-film style. The first two goals, while both smoothly taken by the Oxford scorers, were the result of bad defending.
Both marksmen had all the time in the world to calmly stroke the ball past Scott Flinders.
And towards the other end of the field, Pools struggled with their final delivery.
There was plenty of possession and numerous corners or dead-balls but too often the pass was either underhit or overhit and set-pieces did not clear the first defender.
Yes, there was some promise too, especially in those 20 minutes immediately after half-time, but they were rewarded with only one goal.
But, as alluded to earlier, young players especially are prone to errors and time and patience are required.
Time was certainly a factor in the Oxford opener in the fifth minute. Ryan Williams had loads of it.
The long throw of David Hunt was clearled only as far as the edge of the box.
Pools had at least six players between the ball and Flinders but Williams was afforded an age to calmy roll his left-foot shot into the corner.
As with the previous week’s thriller at Bristol Rovers, Pools responded straight away and almost equalised when Walton’s blast from outside the box, following great work by Michael Duckworth, went just wide.
That was as good as it got for a while, with Pools wasteful with the ball against it has to be said a very good Oxford side who did not give their hosts a second’s peace.
Jonathan Franks was not alone in the ‘wasteful’ department but he was an early casualty, withdrawn on 38 minutes for Poole’s introduction.
Poole was a man on a mission and he lifted Pools.
The former Man City product was heavily involved in the equaliser, putting himself about as Jack Compton’s header came into the box.
The ball fell to James who made it four goals for the season with a good finish to the keeper’s right from near the penalty spot.
Cooper is not sure Poole, James and Andy Monkhouse fit into the same XI but the three looked pretty dangerous after the break. But for all the excitement there was one thing missing. The final delivery.
And Pools would be shown just how it should be done on 66 minutes.
Oxford broke into the box, where Alfie Potter played a neat pass to Deane Smalley who from the edge of the area had time to control and slot the ball past Flinders. Easy, too easy.
There was almost an equaliser 12 minutes later. Duckworth, not for the first time, brought impetus to the attack and Compton’s cross this time found his man.
But James’s snapshot was kept out by the legs of keeper Ryan Clarke.
It was not the end of the drama though.
In injury time, Jack Baldwin sold Flinders shy with his back pass and the keeper was adjudged to have brought down Scott Davies who had knocked the ball past him and referee Jeremy Simpson pointed to the spot.
Flinders dived to his left but Asa Hall put the penalty to his right. Game over. In terms of the result, but not the controversy.
Sub Steve Howard and Davies contested a tackle which the U’s player came off worst from, the referee brandished a red card to the Pools veteran.
Howard protested his innosence but, refs never change their minds, do they?
Or may be they do. In the last seconds of stoppage time, Compton was tripped in the box and Mr Simpson looked poised to point to the spot.
But after looking across to his linesman, he instead booked the winger for diving.
A frustrating end but the worst Pools team in 60-odd years? Not a chance.