MATCH REPORT: Better, but no points for plucky losers

Ritchie Humphreys at the end of the game against Oldham Athletic. Picture by FRANK REID
Ritchie Humphreys at the end of the game against Oldham Athletic. Picture by FRANK REID

THERE was an air of triumph in defeat – but defeat it remains regardless of such gusto.

It was easy to see why new manager John Hughes was encouraged.

It was easy to see why goalscorer Antony Sweeney talked of building on the performance.

And it was easy to see why the home supporters applauded their players from the pitch, for luck had conspired against them.

Plucky losers, however, remain losers.

They remain bottom of League One and headed for the fourth tier.

Harsh? That’s an assessment based on nearly one half of the campaign, not 90 minutes of football.

Yes, it was better and, yes, it could yet prove a platform for a turnaround in fortune, as Sweeney suggests.

But we’ve been here before – that lone win over Scunthorpe United, the 2-2 draw at Brentford under Micky Barron, both heralded as turning points.

They were soon followed by defeat.

That is not of concern to Hughes, however, and fans can only pray that he will be the man who manages to radiate that glint of hope into something far brighter.

But until that day arrives and Pools celebrate what is the most overdue of victories, the nature of defeat, ultimately, matters not.

Last night, in the mind of many, was the proverbial “must win”.

Be it a resounding 5-0 thrashing of swashbuckling gaiety or a last-minute own-goal to scrape the points, victory was all that counted.

It did not materialise.

We know the numerical consequences of such an outcome – nine points from the team in 23rd, 10 points from safety, 18 without a win in all competitions and 47 conceded versus 15 scored.

The table does not say “played well last night”, it reads the above.

Hughes, though, cannot be faulted for his positive soundings.

Indeed, it would be of worry were he to lambast his players at this early juncture, as he refrained from doing in the wake of Saturday’s 5-0 disaster at home to Coventry City.

But time will soon run out on Pools.

There are six games between here and 2013, four of them away from home, where Pools have picked up just two points all season.

There are no loan signings arriving before tomorrow’s deadline, Hughes is working with the bunch he has inherited.

By the time January arrives the aforementioned figures could make for far worse reading.

Last night, against a side with a manager one defeat away from the sack in Paul Dickov, Pools were never going to enjoy a better shot at victory.

And, to their credit, they did set out with that mindset, getting at their visitors with real purpose from the off, Steve Howard cracking the post with a header.

But then, perhaps predictably, that all-too-familiar foe the “individual mistake” made its unwelcome appearance.

Scott Flinders was the guilty party, the goalkeeper’s attempt at an outfield pass landing at the feet of Matt Derbyshire who found Jose Baxter for a gift of an opener.

Groans of derision rolled down from the terraces and they were audible again as the first half drew to a close with little sign of improvement.

But the second half was an altogether different tale.

Sweeney, Peter Hartley and Jonathan Franks all went close before parity was restored.

Franks fizzed a low shot towards goal and, when Dean Bouzanis parried into his goalmouth, Sweeney arrived to steer into the roof of the net.

It was the first home goal from open play in nearly nine hours.

Pools were in command.

Paul Murray was outstanding in midfield, Sweeney was buzzing across the park, Franks was a livewire threat and, likewise, Evan Horwood was showing real signs of quality.

But then the foe we talked of earlier.

Neil Austin needlessly lunged into a red-card-inviting challenge on James Wesolowski and the referee duly obliged – off he went.

Then, with just two minutes of injury-time to play, the teenager brought on to fill the hole vacated by Austin, Jack Baldwin, baffled all when he extended an arm to handle inside the area.

Baxter stepped up for his second but only achieved it after Flinders had blocked his initial effort.

In isolation, it was cruel.

It was a performance which had deserved at least a draw, of that we cannot argue.

But there are no points for plucky losers - and points are what Pools need most right now.