MATCH REPORT: Don’t bet against Pools escape act

James Poole celebrates scoring the first goal against Scunthorpe United. Picture by FRANK REID
James Poole celebrates scoring the first goal against Scunthorpe United. Picture by FRANK REID

JOHN Hughes wishes he had followed his hunch and lumped a few quid on Jonathan Franks getting on the scoresheet.

The best bet of the day, however, was a Pools victory.

Priced up at 3/1, they made a mockery of their outsider tag.

They bossed the bulk of this one like a strong odds-on shot, for the outcome was never truly in doubt.

Pools were arguably as impressive as they have been since the onset of what is now a six-match unbeaten run.

For on recent form, this was a top-of-the-table clash.

Indeed, a glance at the would-be standings over the past 10 games has Scunthorpe fourth and Pools just one place behind.

On the evidence of this, however, it is the visitors you’d be tipping for a promotion tilt were the season still in that infancy.

Sadly, it is not – instead, Pools remain some eight points from safety, the odds of survival still very much against them.

But at least the book is open.

“Inevitable” was a word often scribed at earlier junctures of this campaign.

It was usually followed by the likes of “defeat” and “relegation”.

Today, it is the inevitability of victory of which we talk.

This felt like a turning point.

The match where, in defiance of the old adage, Pools suggested that form is permanent.

It is a month without loss.

Hughes’ starting XI has remained unchanged during that period, there is a reassuring feel to them right now.

The manager sought to list the merits of each of his players when he spoke afterwards, and for good reason.

His front three – Franks, James Poole and Charlie Wyke - had toiled somewhat against Leyton Orient seven days previous and it was their second-half replacements who swung the game in Pools’ favour.

On Saturday, the trio were electrifying.

They had already tormented their minders with a willingness to run, weave, hassle and harry by the time the opening goal was fashioned on 20 minutes.

The ball was worked into Wyke, 12 yards out.

He used the bulky frame which belies his tender 20 years to fend off the resistance of his marker, rolling delicately into the path of Poole.

He needed no second invitation, dispatching a sweet, first-time belt into the bottom corner.

Pools were in control, knitting passes around their opponents and rarely affording them a loan of the football.

By half-time the scoreboard reflected their dominance, Hughes had been right about Franks.

The winger, without a goal since the Autumn, seized upon the loose ball from a crunching Simon Walton challenge which robbed former Middlesbrough man Josh Walker.

Franks, 40 yards out, backed himself, taking on the foot-race with centre-back David Mirfin.

Easing the ball into a gaping space, it was all about the pace of the two men.

Franks won, he was in on goal.

There was still work to be done, however, but the forward found the finish to match his jet-heeled burst, tucking coolly into the bottom corner.

They were a pair of strikes which exuded confidence, the quality of which Hughes could barely separate when it came to reflection.

He did admit that the goal of the game – and perhaps season – would have belonged to Poole had his stunning 25-yard volley not crashed against the crossbar after half-time.

That let-off triggered a mini revival from the previously forlorn hosts.

But the only real opening crafted was the one from which James Alabi headed in from close range on 78 minutes.

Yes, there were a couple of nervy moments – most notably when Jimmy Ryan hammered narrowly wide with the last kick of the contest – but Pools’ rearguard is made of sterner stuff these days.

When Hughes listed the contribution of his men he started at the back.

So much has already been said of Scott Flinders and rightly so, but the goalkeeper is at last being afforded the protection he deserves.

Neil Austin, Peter Hartley, Sam Collins and Evan Horwood are proving a miserly unit, rarely allowing their opponents a sight of goal – indeed, Flinders had just one save to make all afternoon.

In front of them, the snarling Walton is crunching his way through games with the equally tenacious Jack Baldwin his able apprentice.

Ritchie Humphreys completes the midfield three, the veteran going about his duty with little fanfare, teasing passes around the park with an unrelenting accuracy.

It all makes for a positive outlook for the those of a Pools persuasion right now.

Crewe Alexandra come to town tomorrow night and anything less than three points would probably be met with surprise.

The question remains - can Pools survive?

You wouldn’t bet against it.