MATCH REPORT: Jack Baldwin is Hart-beat of Pools win over Crewe

Jack Baldwin in action against Crew .Picture by FRANK REID
Jack Baldwin in action against Crew .Picture by FRANK REID

IT was an individual display which captured the essence of Hartlepool United’s remarkable revival.

He crunched through tackles, killed dead any ball which entered his domain, passed with an unerring accuracy.

John Hughes so often talks of spirit and determination – this player is the personification of such traits.

He, in case you hadn’t already guessed, was the youngest player on the park.

Jack Baldwin.

At 19 years of age, the softly-spoken southerner is performing to a level which belies both his tender years and equally tender tones.

Hughes has admitted he is a manager with a preference for protecting such raw talent – Baldwin needs no such shelter.

Instead, he is the vanguard of the turnaround.

Indeed, it is his opponents in need of protection – ask Arsenal loanee Chuks Aneke, twice left in a heap in the wake of uncompromising, yet ball-winning, smashes.

Word will soon spread of this lad.

But not before talk of his team and their incredible upturn in fortunes.

Hughes will this week be shortlisted for the League One manager-of-the-month prize – he will surely be the runaway victor.

They’re playing The Great Escape music at Victoria Park right now.

At first, after one home victory, it was almost tongue-in-cheek.

Now, after five wins from seven, tongues are hanging out, for supporters have been drooling at the quality on offer.

Baldwin is not the only one deserving of such celebration.

In fact, we could make an argument for any of those in blue and white being the subject of headlines.

Be it any of the back five who are proving an impregnable unit.

Goalkeeper Scott Flinders, so often the reluctant hero in the midst of those perpetual poundings, is at present a relatively underemployed figure such is the form of those in front.

The engine-room – including Baldwin – is providing the steam to power the ever-accelerating escape attempt.

While the front three – Jonathan Franks, James Poole and Charlie Wyke - have been breathtaking.

If not for Baldwin’s age-defying standard-bearing, then one of that attacking triumvirate would have swept the star-man plaudits.

They were at the heart of all three goals.

It was after a nervy start – expectation perhaps playing a part – that Pools fashioned the move of the game which was duly rewarded with the opening goal on 27 minutes.

Ritchie Humphreys pinged a sumptuous ball to the left where Evan Horwood, Wyke and Franks combined, the latter darting into the area and attacking the by-line.

He hung a ball to the far post where Baldwin, vacating the safety of midfield, soared to return into the path of Wyke, gambling in the goalmouth.

His fancy paid off, stooping to head home.

It was two by half-time - this was a goal owing everything to desire.

Poole’s pass in the direction of Franks was well-intended but it lacked in zip, allowing centre-back Mark Ellis to nick in and steal.

But Franks was plotting a theft of his own and, with the defender dozing for just a split-second, the Pools man hungrily hounded him out of possession before slamming into the bottom corner from 20 yards.

The Middlesbrough coaches in the stands were there to see their loanee Wyke, and how impressed they would have been by his development.

But just maybe one or two eyebrows were raised at Franks’ improvement since swapping the Riverside for Victoria Park last summer.

At this point it mattered not that Pools had earlier been denied a penalty and Crewe keeper Steve Phillips lucky to escape a red card when handling outside the area, for as the half-time whistle sounded the hosts were well on their way to victory.

The second half, however, was more about discipline than devastation and it wasn’t until the third minute of added time, after Phillips had saved from first Franks and then Wyke, that Andy Monkhouse belted a points-sealing third.

Yes, the euphoria was tempered as results elsewhere again conspired against Pools, but the roar which greeted full-time took no account of such ill-fate.

Instead, the home supporters waited until the very last man had left the pitch, reserving for him the heartiest applause.

And that man?

Jack Baldwin – it was well deserved.