MATCH REPORT: Three points, three cheers, maybe even a few beers

James Poole celebrates after scoring the opening goal against Notts County. Picture by FRANK REID
James Poole celebrates after scoring the opening goal against Notts County. Picture by FRANK REID

WITH a heady mix of ecstasy and relief in the wake of his first home victory, John Hughes declared that his players should enjoy this one with a few beers.

Funny that, if anyone had said in late December that Pools would win three of their next six matches, you would have accused them of having over-indulged in the excesses of Christmas.

But Hughes’ men have done just that – you almost need a drink to absorb the shock.

Rewind to Boxing Day at Carlisle United.

Pools played as if nursing a hangover, a lethargic display shorn of quality and spirit.

They were beaten 3-0, convincingly so as well.

They were 15 points from safety.

Next up was a trip to the league leaders, Sheffield United.

And so started the revival – the night-out equivalent of a Vodka and Red Bull.

It – the 3-2 win at Bramall Lane – injected a belief which had been lacking from the outset of the season, for this was a team resigned to the inevitably of relegation, or so their performances suggested.

It may well prove that demotion to the fourth tier is the eventual outcome, but to go down without a fight would have been unforgivable.

Until that day in South Yorkshire there was precious little evidence of resistance to their slide.

Fast forward to today – Pools, courtesy of 10 points from 18, have narrowed the survival deficit to just eight.

Belief, it seems, is now coursing through the veins.

No player better encapsulates the upturn than Simon Walton.

“I went home and booed myself after some games,” said the midfielder.

As recently as New Year’s Day, despite having starred in the win at Sheffield three days earlier, Walton was jeered by the home crowd.

On Saturday he wasn’t just cheered, the confirmation of his man-of-the-match prize drew the biggest roar of the afternoon.

Walton would not have been short of willing buyers of a beer down Church Street on Saturday night had he taken his manager’s advice.

Pools fans, in general, are a forgiving bunch – seven straight home defeats and a refusal to unanimously turn on their team bears testament to that.

That Walton had found himself the focus of their scorn proves he had done something wrong.

On Saturday, however, he did everything right.

He chased, hassled, harried, crunched through tackles, passed, screamed, bawled – he set the tone for victory.

The scorers – Peter Hartley and James Poole – have taken the headlines – HartleyPoole, it’s an easy one isn’t it?

But do not mistake the biggest stories to emerge from this.

The roar afforded to Walton and a first home win since September 1 are the real talking points.

And the win, you have to say, was deserved.

It was a scintillating start – Pools weren’t easing themselves in to this session with a couple of quiet beers, this was top-shelf stuff.

Walton, with the authority of a nightclub doorman, bullied his opponent out of possession and fed Charlie Wyke.

He, in turn, slipped a pass wide to Jonathan Franks.

Franks crossed.

Poole, despite the delivery having dropped onto his boot just six yards from goal, elected not to fire.

He knew what he was doing.

Instead, he delicately cushioned the cross, throwing his minder the most cunning of dummies.

The ball looped in the air, landing on the garish red shoe of the striker – goal.

“Confidence is a preference” someone once sung, for Poole it is a necessity.

With successive starts has come a new-found inner-belief, and a pair of goals to boot.

Had it not been for the previously-unimaginable efforts of Walton, then Poole would have taken the star-man plaudits.

He, aided by the brilliant Wyke and Franks, was a threat throughout.

This triumvirate have made the difference in recent matches.

There was a home lull early in the second half, during which period Jamal Campbell-Ryce served up a dancefloor rendition inside the penalty box, jigging in mesmerising motion between three defenders before dispatching into the bottom corner.

The formbook would suggest only one winner from this juncture.

But Pools have veered from the script of late and the headlines were duly scribed when Hartley, climbing amid a crowd of bodies, turned a close-range header just inches over the line on 69 minutes.

From there on in Pools were gutsy, akin to the stubborn, old soak refusing to shift until the bell chimes.

Victory was theirs and how deserved it was.

Three points. Three cheers. Maybe even a few beers.