Huddersfield Town 0 Hartlepool Utd 1

Jake Kean makes a good save during the first half against Huddersfield Town. Picture by FRANK REID
Jake Kean makes a good save during the first half against Huddersfield Town. Picture by FRANK REID

THE winter of content took on a new festive glow for Mick Wadsworth and his side as they produced another Scrooge-like display to move closer to the top of the League One tree.

This was the only fixture in the division to beat the lingering snow and ice and how Wadsworth must be glad the club he once managed has moved on from those days of near financial ruin to now boast undersoil heating at the Galpharm Stadium.

The win, for pessimists at least, moves Pools seven points clear of the drop zone.

Realists, however, could argue they’re one point off the play-offs and, for those of an optimistic leaning, it’s a case of four points from second-placed Sheffield Wednesday with two games in hand.

Given the resilient nature of this latest success you wouldn’t bet against what had, back in August, seemed a most unlikely promotion push.

Indeed, Peterborough, Brighton, Bournemouth and now Huddersfield have all been disposed of whilst occupying one of the league’s top three positions.

If anything it appears Wadsworth’s boys raise their game for the challenge of high-flying opponents.

If they could couple that with a more consistent return against the lesser lights then talk of promotion might not sound so fanciful.

This latest triumph was an incredible third 1-0 victory in succession on the road and included all of the battling ideals of the previous two.

But the win was not without good fortune and Wadsworth’s post-match likening of Jake Kean to England No.1 Joe Hart, who he worked with at Shrewsbury Town, tells its own story as to the identity of Pools’ star man.

Kean was, put quite simply, outstanding.

Pools, thanks in large part to the knowledge and contacts of goalkeeping coach Gary Walsh, have unearthed a goalkeeper with a big future ahead of him.

Without him this would almost certainly have been a fruitless foray to West Yorkshire and on no fewer than seven occasions did he produce top-drawer saves to prevent certain goals.

With his loan contract set to expire in the New Year, you feel renewal of that deal could be a key turning point in Pools’ season and perhaps the deciding factor in which of those aforementioned pessimists, realists or optimists are proven correct.

His first involvement was a shinned block from Anthony Pilkington who had sold a dummy to Evan Horwood before smashing low on goal from just eight yards out on 15 minutes.

For all their early possession, though, the hosts almost gifted Pools the lead just moments later, Jamie McCombe’s errant pass presenting James Brown with a chance but he shot tamely into the palms of Alex Smithies.

Huddersfield were soon back in control and Kean again came to the visitors’ rescue when he blocked at point-blank range from winger Gary Roberts after he had wriggled clear of Neil Austin.

For all Town’s promise going forward they were proving to be their own worst enemy on a defensive front.

Joey Gudjonsson was the wayward culprit just after the half-hour mark but Smithies, another young stopper of great promise, spared his blushes with a fingertip save to keep out Leon McSweeney’s dipping, 20-yard volley.

From the resultant corner full-back Horwood, who had seized possession after Town had only half cleared, sent a measured lob towards goal only for a back-pedalling Smithies to claw clear.

Smithies, at 20-years-old, has long been touted by boss Lee Clark as the best at this level. But Kean, one year his junior, served another reminder of his right to that crown with a smart stop from a Joe Garner header on 38 minutes.

For all Kean’s heroics at one end, though, the best his efforts could guarantee was a point.

It needed a moment of either quality or luck at the opposite end of the pitch if Pools were to claim victory.

And so that moment duly arrived two minutes shy of half-time, with not a hint of good fortune about it; this was all quality.

Horwood and left-flank comrade Andy Monkhouse managed to outwit three surrounding home shirts, the latter producing a cheeky flick to spring clear the front-running defender.

And Horwood did not disappoint with his delivery, sweeping a low cross through the goalmouth and to the far post where the fast-arriving Leon McSweeney extended a leg to poke home.

The remit for the second-half was clear; protect what you’ve got and see what happens on the break.

And, for half an hour at least, that plan was rolled out to near perfection, Pools soaking up what little Town pressure there was and counter attacking with a speed and incisiveness which deserved more.

But as the game entered the final 15 minutes the hosts found another gear and set up camp deep in enemy territory.

Geordie Lee Novak and Arsenal loan youngster Benik Afobe, both strikers, were thrown into the action by a now desperate Clark.

And Novak’s impact was almost immediate, breaking free in the area only for Kean to smother and gather at his feet eight yards from goal.

Kean then palmed clear a Jordan Rhodes strike just moments later and kept out another effort from the same player with ten minutes remaining.

But his best stop, by his own admission, was the one which saw him bravely thwart Afobe after Pools’ backline had been caught napping from a quickly taken free-kick.

It was a breathless finale to the game and had it not been 24 hours after Christmas Day, Armann Bjornsson’s glaring miss five minutes from time might just have made it into many stockings as part of a “football bloopers” DVD.

Antony Sweeney forced his way through a stiff Graham Carey challenge before striding into the area and picking out the unmarked Icelandic forward, just one yard from goal at the far post.

But, rather than guide into the gaping net, he somehow contrived to scoop over the crossbar before collapsing in a despairing heap on the turf.

And there was no doubt as to the identity of the first team-mate Bjornsson would embrace on full-time when, just seconds after that howler, the unbeatable Kean leapt to beat away Roberts’ 20-yard smash which had been destined for the top corner.

That save proved to be the final telling act of a warming festive fixture and Wadsworth’s Boxing Day battlers returned to the North-East with yet another maximum haul in their blue-and-white Santa sack.