DARE to dream.
The phrase was coined by Sunderland supporters ahead of their Capital One Cup final against the mighty Manchester City, which of course ultimately ended in defeat.
But now it’s the turn of the Hartlepool United faithful to dare to dream after a clinical, classy and dominant display.
From front to back, the stunning 4-0 rout of John Ward’s Bristol Rovers side was the best this Pools team have produced this term in Sky Bet League Two.
Not only did Colin Cooper’s side claim a fifth-successive clean sheet on home soil, there was also four goals to savour – the first after just 58 seconds.
But this was more than just three points, this was a morale-boosting victory which sets Pools – now just three points off the play-offs – up nicely for the remaining nine matches.
If Pools were to maintain hope of reaching the top seven after the disappointing defeat to Wycombe and goalless draw at Accrington, then they really needed to win.
And they did, in some style.
Marlon Harewood opened the scoring before 17-year-old Brad Walker netted his third of the season with an absolute ‘worldy’ from 25-yards.
The teen dominated the play at times, and could have had a hat-trick if it wasn’t for Bristol keeper Steve Mildenhall who seemed perplexed his side continued to give Walker so much time on the ball.
A Simon Walton penalty and a fourth from substitute Jonathan Franks completed the demolition job against a poor Rovers side, who dropped to 18th, four points above the relegation zone.
Pools were in control from the off, playing at a higher tempo and better shape than their Bristol counterparts, whose assistant manager is former Pools midfielder Darrell Clarke.
Not a happy return for him, but it was a great all-round team performance by his former club, with Walker, Walton, Sam Collins and Luke James all excelling.
Pools, on 49 points, stay 10th but the gap between them and seventh-placed Southend United is reduced to just three points – raising hope of a successful campaign with 27 points still to play for.
Defeat at home to Scunthorpe for Plymouth Argyle and Southend United’s goalless draw with Bury helped close the gap, although York City maintained their good form with a 2-0 home win over Wycombe Wanderers.
Successful seasons are built on solid home form and the win was Pools’ ninth at the Vic, only table-topping Chesterfield and third-place Rochdale have more home wins this campaign.
Victory also helped boost the goal difference to plus four, which could yet prove crucial come the end of the season.
What Cooper is demanding his side do next is improve on the away form and add to the four away wins – starting with sixth-placed Oxford United on Friday.
If they start as well as they did at the weekend then Pools will be laughing.
It took just 58 seconds for Pools – kicking towards the Town End – to take the lead, through Harewood’s headed goal.
The experienced 34-year-old had been recalled in place of Franks and he repaid that faith from the off, connecting with a James flick-on from a whipped Jack Barmby corner.
There have been quicker goals at Victoria Park, including Andy Toman’s 13 second strike against Stockport back in the late 1980s, but it was some start nonetheless.
It was breathless stuff and Walker had a fierce 20-yard strike well pushed away by Mildenhall four minutes later.
The only blot was the hamstring injury suffered by Andy Monkhouse, the Yorkshireman replaced on 15 minutes by Jack Compton, after collapsing in pain on the touchline.
Rovers – who had only won once away from home all season – never recovered from the early goal and fell further behind to Walker’s 15th-minute wonderstrike.
The Billingham-born teen, the newly-crowned League Two apprentice of the year at last night’s Football League awards, got his weekend off to the perfect start with a rocket from 25-yards.
The central midfielder took a touch from a Barmby pass before unleashing an unstoppable curling shot past the hapless Mildenhall.
Rovers did eventually find their feet, with John-Joe O’Toole getting more involved and he played in Matt Harrold but captain Collins was alert to block his shot.
Walker then tested Mildenhall, again from 25-yards, with a crisp effort but it was tipped over, while Collins had to be alert in the 36th minute to throw himself in the way of a goal-bound O’Toole strike.
It was that man who again tried his luck from distance but Flinders – making his 200th league appearance for Pools – was more than a match as Cooper’s side went in leading 2-0 at the break.
It was a scrappier start to the second-half but Pools extended their lead after 56 minutes.
The impressive Compton played in Harewood inside the penalty area and he was bundled over by Mark McChrystal. Referee Seb Stockbridge didn’t hesitate in pointing to the spot.
Regular penalty taker Walton had to wrestle the ball off Harewood before cooling slotting it home to make it 3-0.
Ward then made a double substitution but the game had already gone.
Flinders was quick to get down low and save Chris Beardsley’s header after he had gotten above Jordan Richards, with the ball spilling to Harrold but committed Collins again threw himself to block the shot and maintain the clean-sheet.
Barmby then tried his luck from 40 yards, the ball just dipping over the bar, before Walker exited the field to a rousing reception.
Beardsley did smash a shot off Flinders’ cross bar but Pools scored again, in the 89th minute.
Franks fired the ball high into the net after tireless work down the left-flank from James saw the striker hit the post, with the ball rebounding to the former Boro forward.
It was a composed finish to seal a fully deserved 4-0 win.
All Pools supporters want is for their team to have something to play for and thanks to Cooper’s crop of talented youngsters they could well be in for an exciting end to the season after all.
Dare to dream, indeed
Pools (4-4-2): Flinders, Richards, Collins (C), Burgess, Holden, Walton, Walker (Hawkins, 79), Monkhouse (Compton, 15), Barmby, James, Harewood (Franks, 63).
Subs Not Used: Rafferty (gk), Rowbotham, Sweeney, Poole.
Goals: Harewood (1), Walker (15), Walton (56), Franks (89).
Bristol Rovers (4-2-3-1): Mildenhall, Smith, Woodards (Clarke, 76), Parkes, Clarkson (Santos, 57), Harrold, Brown, Clucas (Beardsley, 57), McChrystal, O’Toole, Mohamed.
Subs Not Used: Gough (gk) Gillespie, Harrison, Lockyer.
Referee: Seb Stockbridge (Tyne & Wear)
Attendance: 3,480 (239 Bristol)
Scott Flinders: 7. Making his 200th league appearance for Hartlepool United, the first Pools keeper to achieve that feat. And what a way to celebrate, with his fifth straight home clean sheet.
Jordan Richards: 7. A fully-fit Michael Duckworth will have his work cut out to get back in the team ahead of Richards on current form. Continues to impress.
Sam Collins: 9. Was once again a colossal at the back. Won every header and made two vital blocks to keep Bristol Rovers out. Contender for MOM.
Christian Burgess: 8. Another outstanding display. When he plays the ball out from the back Pools have an extra man in midfield.
Darren Holden: 7. Set for an extended run in the side after confirmation Neil Austin is out for the season. Another promising display and always looks to get forward.
Simon Walton: 8. Sets the tone in the centre and kept dangerman John-Joe O’Toole quiet for most of the game.
Brad Walker: 9. MOM. Head and shoulders above in first-half, capped off with a 25-yard wonder strike. Marvellous performance and no wonder scouts continue to track his progress.
Andy Monkhouse: 6. Went off injured after 15 minutes with a hamstring injury. Could be out for up to three weeks.
Jack Barmby: 7. Assisted Brad Walker’s goal. Looks far more comfortable playing behind the front two strikers.
Luke James: 9. Contender for the MOM as his constant work rate means the opposition defenders never have a moments peace. Two assists as well.
Marlon Harewood: 8. One goal and one assist. A productive afternoon’s work for the 34-year-old, who even tried to wrestle the ball from Walton for the penalty.
Jack Compton: 8. Looked really bright, pacy and adventurous when he came on. Eager to impress and now set for a run in the side.
Lewis Hawkins: 6. Steady sub appearance from the youngster. Game was already won but looks comfortable on the ball.
Jonathan Franks: 7. Played around 30 minutes and goal in final few minutes capped off a hard-working performance.
Mark Carroll @MARKCARROLL3
Superb opening 30mins from Pools as good as we have played all season.3 points from playoffs keeps hopes alive with 9 games left
Liam Reid @ltreidy67
Best performance of the season. Excellent football and always in control. Walker easily the best player on the park.
Steven Liddell @slidds
how good was @bradwalker1996 ?! Well done to @SimonWalton8 and @sammyboy5677
Neil Pearson @hpoolneil
superb today, fantastic all over, brad walker was on another planet...lowly pools go marching on. #playoffsareon
Neil Sharpe @sharpeleeholme
brill game against a poor team hard to pick man off the match great team performance playoffs here we come