HARTLEPOOL United’s days at the wrong end of Skybet League Two are surely numbered?
They moved up to 19th in the table thanks to a result-of-the- season contender at Mansfield Town. Or any season for that matter.
True, the Stags may have been suffering a touch of ‘After the Lord Mayor’s Show’ following the exertions at Chesterfield the previous Saturday.
But just take a look at the facts.
Mansfield began the day third, having been beaten just once and having conceded only six league goals all season (the second best record in the division). Pools, though, gave them a football masterclass, so much so that they could easily have had eight, the same number of chances they created at Bristol Rovers.
The defence was nothing short of magnificent, the central midfield equally tremendous and the four most advanced players were all brilliant.
The four goals, all stunners and left-foot shots, were the least Pools deserved.
But, and it’s a big but, Pools must make this the rule rather than the exception.
Granted, they are not going to score four every Saturday, not even Barcelona do that.
But they must maintain the same level of work-rate and, to use a word bandied around the place a bit these days, tempo.
No-one highlighted that more than Jack Compton.
The left-winger has shown glimpses of what he can do since arriving at Pools but there was surely no-one more frustrating than him in the defeat by Oxford when his quality of delivery was below-par and that’s being kind.
But on Saturday he was a real Jack-in-the-box, if you pardon the pun. Used down the right in a 4-5-1 formation, the 25-year-old beat defenders on the outside and inside and got quality into the box.
He was unselfish too. At one point in the second half, when on a hat-trick, he had half an opening for his treble. Instead, he tried to play in James Poole, who wasn’t quite on his wavelength.
Not just that, he provided good defensive cover for Michael Duckworth.
But it was in front of goal where he truly came alive.
He surely won’t score two better goals in his career while he provided the assist for Poole who scored the team’s fourth 10 minutes from time.
Poole, in his advanced midfield role, also played his part, as did Andy Monkhouse.
Moved from the centre to the left, the 32-year-old’s screamer set Pools on their way.
And while Luke James did not find the net, he produced quality and quantity, and will still be wondering today how he was not awarded the clearest penalty you will ever see. Or not see as it turned out.
The forward boys may hog the headlines but behind them was a truly magnificent defensive effort.
The back four of Michael Duckworth, Sam Collins, Christian Burgess and Neil Austin did not put one foot wrong against tough and confident opponents.
In front of them Jack Baldwin and Simon Walton provided a solid central midfield wall.
And how nice it was to see Cooper winning the tactical battle.
This reporter suspected Cooper would go 3-5-2 at Field Mill to match the formation employed by the Stags.
Instead, he went 4-5-1 with Collins coming into the starting XI for Matty Dolan who failed a pre-match fitness test with Baldwin joining Walton in midfield.
So good were Pools that Stags boss Paul Cox changed to 4-4-2 after only 23 minutes, withdrawing defender Ryan Tafazolli and bringing on an extra midfielder, Lindon Meikle.
It made no difference, Pools controlled play right through to the finish.
However, there was almost a disastrous start when they came close to conceding a fifth-minute goal for the second Saturday in a row.
But Tafazolli first hit the post with a header and then put the rebound over Scott Flinders’ bar with his right foot. The Stags would not get near the Pools goal for another hour.
Mansfield keeper Alan Marriott had only seen the back of his net over the previous two Saturdays to place and retrieve his keeper’s bag. Not on Saturday. The League Two player-of-the-month contender was forced to bend his back four times, picking out the ball.
Monkhouse got the goal of the season show rolling in the seventh minute. He won the header from Flinders’ goalkick and then took the ball back from Duckworth and advanced towards goal.
The Stags backed off and he pulled the trigger from almost 30 yards and his left-foot bullet fired into Marriott’s left corner.
It should have been two in the 20th minute when James was tripped by Anthony Howell in the home box, only for ref Graham Horwood to decide the teenager had dived.
Everyone makes mistakes but he was the only person in the ground (the Mansfield players included) who thought it was NOT a pen!
But Mr Horwood could only signal towards the centre circle when Compton made it two a minute from the break.
He started close to ‘Monky territory’ before cutting in on his left, his 18-yard shot bouncing just in front of Marriott before ending in the back of the net.
Within five minutes of the re-start he had his second and Pools’ third. Poole was tripped off the ball just a few yards outside the box and Compton’s delicious free-kick over the wall went into Marriott’s top-left corner.
It should have been four when James did superbly to keep the ball in for Poole to tee up Walton only for the midfielder to fail to get a clean connection.
Mr Horwood did get one spot-kick decision correct, penalising Collins for handball on 75 minutes. A soft pen? Yes, but the right call and Sam Clucas hammered his shot past Flinders.
But normal service was resumed 10 minutes from time when Compton (who else?) made in-roads down the right and set up Poole on the edge of the area. He controlled and shot with Marriott beaten for the fourth time in his left corner.