WITH his father, a former England international, watching from the stands, Jack Barmby couldn’t have dreamed of a better debut for Hartlepool United.
On the day that Juan Mata grabbed the headlines after signing for Manchester United, it was his 19-year-old club-mate who grabbed the hearts of Pools fans with a superb cameo performance in his first appearance since signing on a month-long loan.
His 15-minute sub appearance was also his Football League debut and what a way to mark it – with a stunning strike in the 89th minute to seal a 2-0 derby win over York City.
No doubt his crisp, curling strike into the top corner of the net had dad Nick, a former Tottenham Hotspur, Middlesbrough and Liverpool star with 23 England caps to his name, jumping out of his seat along with the rest of the Barmby family who had travelled from Hull to a wet and windy Victoria Park.
The retired midfielder could hit a ball himself back in the day and he will have been proud as punch with the positive impact his highly-rated son had against Nigel Worthington’s Minstermen.
Barmby Jnr completed his loan deal from Manchester United the same day Middlesbrough forward Luke Williams, 20, also signed for a month and Pools boss Colin Cooper couldn’t have been happier with the contribution of the classy pair.
But it was Barmby, in particular, who overshadowed Luke James’ return to goalscoring after an 11-match – including nine starts – barren spell in front of goal.
James’ equally impressive finish, in the 82nd minute, was just reward for an outstanding all-round display from the Amble-born 19-year-old, who now has 11 goals to his name.
The win meant Pools have now won every game that they have taken the lead in - 12 in total and they are the only club in the Football League with a 100 per cent record when scoring first. Quite a feat.
But this hard-fought victory was by no means convincing and in truth, the match had 0-0 written all over it, until two moments of quality separated the sides, who had produced goalless draws in their last three meetings.
At times it was dull and lacking any creative spark with both teams doing plenty of huffing and puffing without ever really threatening the opposition goal.
Yet the game came to life in the final stages and thankfully in Pools’ favour.
Victory also meant, that at long last, Pools had managed to score in 2014 and secure their first win of the calendar year – after three successive defeats to Bury, Rochdale and Fleetwood Town.
Further joy came in the shape of a clean sheet – their first since the 0-0 draw with Portsmouth at the end of November.
Victory pushes Pools up to 14th place in Sky Bet League Two on 34 points at the heart of a fiercely congested mid-table, 11 points off the play-offs and eight off the relegation zone.
In other words, as mid-table as you are likely to get, yet supporters will have taken heart from this reassuring win.
Williams looked bright, composed and tidy in possession operating at the forefront of a new diamond formation, which saw Simon Walton lying deep and Brad Walker and Andy Monkhouse on the right and left side respectively.
And for the most part, it worked well, although it did mean Pools were lacking width at times and the game became congested in the middle of the park.
That changed when the dangerous Barmby came on and immediately set about attacking the York defenders, which ultimately helped Pools on the way to three crucial points.
While a point wouldn’t have been so bad, a fourth straight defeat didn’t bear thinking about, especially ahead of a busy week against AFC Wimbledon on Tuesday and table-topping Scunthorpe United next Saturday.
With right-back Jordan Richards starting a three-match suspension, Cooper brought Darren Holden in at left-back and moved captain Neil Austin to his familiar right-side berth.
Williams started, while 34-year-old marquee signing Marlon Harewood was also making his home debut in front of more than 4,600 fans.
Pools had the better of what few chances were created in the opening 45 minutes, James was put through in the 10th minute but York keeper Nick Pope spread himself well, while Walker and Monkhouse also tested Pope.
Harewood, clearly still lacking in match fitness, had the ball in the net but his 18th minute effort was ruled offside as the game entered a lengthy period lacking any creative spark.
York’s Josh Carson flashed an effort just wide of Scott Flinders’ post and then Monkhouse almost gave Pools the lead but his half-volley in injury time flew wide past a clutch of players.
After the interval, both teams upped their game and York – backed by almost 1,000 fans – almost took the lead through Wes Fletcher but Flinders was in the right place for a double save to keep the scores level. The game entered another scrappy period, though there was plenty of spirit and commitment, and it wasn’t until the introduction of Jonathan Franks in the 69th minute that Pools looked a threat again.
Franks had a good opening but fired high over the bar before York’s Keith Lowe somehow shot over from six-yards when it looked far easier to score.
It was undoubtedly a let-off for Pools and they made York pay with two clinical finishes.
James’ 11th of the season, a well-controlled first-time shot came in the 82nd minute after a good knock-down from Jack Baldwin following a deep Walton cross.
He wheeled away in celebration towards the Pools bench, who were again celebrating seven minutes later.
Tricky Barmby had looked a threat from the moment he came on and he marked his debut with a stunning left-footed curled strike from 18-yards which sailed into the top corner after a good pass from Williams presented him the opportunity.
Pools may have left it late but finally, Cooper and Co have got 2014 up and running.
Hartlepool United (4-4-2): Flinders; Austin; Holden; Baldwin; Burgess; Walker; Walton; Monkhouse (Barmby, 79); Williams; Harewood (Franks, 69); James.
Subs Not Used: Rafferty; Collins; Compton; Sweeney; Rodney.
Booked: Walker, Burgess.
Goals: James, (82), Barmby, (89)
York City (4-4-2): Pope; Oyebanjo; Davies; McGurk; Coulson; Penn; Carson; Montrose; Lowe; Bowman (Jarvis, 30, McCombe, 85), Fletcher.
Subs Not Used: Ingham; Smith; Platt; Dickinson; Reed.
Booked: Lowe, Carson, Montrose.
Referee: Iain Williamson.
Attendance: 4,673 (York, 956)
Scott Flinders: 6. In truth didn’t really have a great deal to do but what he did, he did well, including a double save early in the second half to keep the scores level. First clean sheet in nine games.
Neil Austin: 7. The captain reverted back to familar territory on the right-side of the defence and put in one of his better displays of the season.
Darren Holden: 7. Impressed at left-back and is likely to be given a run in the side until Michael Duckworth returns from injury. Did well defensively.
Christian Burgess: 7. Another good display from Burgess, who was calm when put under pressure from the York forward line.
Jack Baldwin: 8. Impressive display from Baldwin who had the better of the York forwards for most of the afternoon. Was strong in the air and made a few crunching tackles.
Simon Walton: 6. Was given the task of protecting the back four at the base of the diamond and did it well enough. York only had a couple of goalscoring opportunities.
Bradley Walker: 7. Was pushed wider than his usual midfield berth but looked the most likely to score for Pools in the first half. Linked up well with Williams at times.
Andy Monkhouse: 6. Solid enough display from Monkhouse but his place is under threat from new boy on the block, Jack Barmby.
Luke Williams: 8. A very promising debut from the on-loan Middlesbrough midfielder who was wanted by other clubs. A coup for Pools to secure his signature and showed in glimpses how good he could be. Slotted in well at the forefront of the ‘Poolie Diamond’.
Luke James: 9. MOM. Another fantastic performance from 11-goal top scorer James and another fantastic strike - just a shame it has taken so long to come. Led the line really well and took his goal brilliantly to give Pools the lead.
Marlon Harewood: 6. Still not properly match fit and the partnership with James didn’t really get going. Worked hard enough but should have won more in the air.
Jonathan Franks: 6. Came on for Marlon Harewood with 20 minutes left and brought a bit more pace and energy to the front line.
Jack Barmby: 8. What an introduction to league football. Scored his first professional goal just 10 minutes after coming on to secure the win with a technically superb strike. Looked very productive aside from goal. Expect him to start against Wimbledon.