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Roy Kelly analysis: Hartlepool impress in win against Maidstone

Jonathan Franks celebrates his goal for Pools.
Jonathan Franks celebrates his goal for Pools.

Crisis? What crisis?

Seven days after producing an insult to the badge and the fans, Hartlepool United sent 4,000 Poolies home feeling 10 feet tall.

A few supporters may have nicked out at 3-0 to beat the crowds but 99% of the fans stayed until the end to register their approval rating.

This is the Hartlepool United the faithful have been waiting to see. Last Monday there was effort and endeavour, but on Saturday those attributes were supplemented by excellence and energy as goals from Keith Watson, Jonathan Franks and debutant Connor Simpson swept aside Maidstone United.

Everything came together, from front to back. Scott Loach was incredible, again, the defence was so dominant for so long, the midfield was vibrant and the forwards a handful.

The only slight quibble, very slight it has to be emphasised, was the last-minute goal conceded at the Rink End, Jonan ter Horst finding Loach’s bottom left-corner.

While the game could easily have ended 6-2 – Maidstone could not have complained had it done so – a 3-0 and clean sheet would have been so welcome.

But the display here counted as much as the scoreline. Now this has got to be the norm, a benchmark has been set.

But this was the maiden home victory for Pools and boss Craig Harrison, not the team winning the league.

All they have done is register back-to-back wins for the first time in exactly five months. Your reporter must add the rider that we all hoped the last occasion, a home double against Crewe (4-0) and Exeter (3-1) would be a turning point under Dave Jones. We know how that turned out, don’t we?

But, it’s a start, and what a start. Michael Woods, speaking to SportMail on Friday, emphasised how Pools needed to begin quickly.

He was a man of his word, as Pools set a cracking tempo from the off against a side unbeaten in four matches and having just got results against the top two.

Devante Rodney, looking like a new man, brought a good diving save from Lee Worgan from a shot from the edge of the box as early as the seventh minute and soon after, Simpson was centimetres away from getting on the end of a Nicky Deverdics cross from the left. Franks, in a sign of things to come, had a firm header (via another Deverdics cross) held by Worgan. A goal had to come and it did on 19 minutes.

A Deverdics corner was cleared only as far as Lewis Hawkins and when he put the ball into the danger area, Watson turned it past Worgan from 10 yards with a neat swivel finish.

Deverdics had a 30-yard free-kick well-held by Worgan, while Michael Ledger and Franks headed wide from Nicky’s corners when it looked easier to score, while Rodney had a shot blocked after some good work when Woods was screaming for a pull-back.

It was all Pools who harried the Stones on every part of the pitch, much to the delight of the fans who lapped up the fare with relish.

Maidstone barely got a kick so you half-feared a sucker punch and Pools were indebted to Scott Loach when the away side reached the home box for the first time in the 45th minute, effecting a double save from Zavon Hines and Jack Paxman.

It was a warning shot, or shots I should say, and after the break, Maidstone started the better and had a fair bit of the play.

But Pools grabbed the second somewhat against the run of play in the 57th minute when Deverdics (who else?) delivered from the left and Franks was in the centre of the area to head past Worgan from 12 yards.

It was not over though and Loach, again, showed his class with a majestic diving save to his left straight from the re-start when Joe Pigott’s header from Stuart Lewis’s cross looked en route for the net, Ledger applying the clearance from the loose ball.

Sub Ryan Donaldson, on for a tired Rodney, almost made it three from a delightful through ball by Featherstone but it was 3-0 in the 68th minute.

Tireless Franks refused to give up was a borderline lost cause and got the better of two Stones defenders in the right corner to swing over a cross which Simpson headed in from seven yards.

At 3-0 it was game over but Maidstone, backed by a good travelling support, kept plugging away with some late pressure and a consolation goal by ter Horst after a bright run.

An irritation? Yes, but it did not take the gloss off a great day. Roll on the next one.