Let’s not kid ourselves here.
Those 4,022 Poolies inside Victoria Park last night and those watching this second round replay against Salford City on BT Sport know the truth.
Hartlepool United are fortunate to be looking forward to a third round FA Cup confrontation with Championship promotion favourites Derby County on Saturday, January 9.
For normal time of last night’s tie, Pools were abject, and that’s being kind to them. It is one of the worst 90 minutes this reporter has witnessed, especially given they were playing a team over 50 places lower than them on the football ladder.
Salford controlled the tie and the only chance Pools seemed to have was to fumble their way through to penalties and hope to nick it fro the spot.
However, they finally found their football – and the net – in extra-time and two superbly-taken goals by Scott Fenwick and Mikael Mandron brought Ronnie Moore’s side victory against a Salford side who deserved more tha just very sporting applause from the home fans at the end of the night.
Pools were as fortunate as they were in the first-round win over Cheltenham Town but, ultimately, all that matters is the result.
And the final scoreline shows Pools were 2-0 winners.
Where do Pools go from here? Surely, to nick a line from Yazz and the Plastic Population, the “Only way is up”.
It has to be. The first 90 minutes of last night’s tie bordered on the unacceptable.
Pools were not bereft of talent or ideas or energy or confidence. They were lacking in ALL of them.
To the credit of the back four of Carl Magnay (and later Scott Harrison), Matthew Bates, Adam Jackson and Jake Carroll, plus keeper Trevor Carson, they defended well.
But other than that they were second best to the Evo Stik Northern Premier Division side in EVERY department.
There was much grumbling on the terraces – with justification having had to stomach that 90 minutes – and considerable angst on Twitter and the like.
On the evidence of the first hour and a half there looked only one winner.
Salford had dominated and given Pools had endured a difficult afternoon at Portsmouth on Saturday and a 700-mile round trip while City were having a nice weekend off, you would not have put 50 pence on a home win.
The Pools players owed their management, the people who pay them a good wage and the fans a proper effort in extra-time.
Thankfully, and finally, they delivered.
Pools had barely set foot in the Salford half in normal time but they were on the front foot in the first period of the added 30 minutes.
And they shocked the home fans who had not left at full-time and those who had not turned off the TV set by taking a 97th minute lead.
Fenwick found Rhys Oates wide on the right and the midfielder swung over the most perfect of crosses for the striker to power home his header from inside the six-yard-box at the Rink End. The cheer which greeted that goal was a mixture of ecstasy and sheer.
Suddenly, Pools were a different team and Moore, who had engineered the great escape last season looked set to pull off another escape act in the FA Cup.
Pools were transformed. They began to complete passes which earlier had gone astray and won tackles theypreviously had lost.
Fenwick was being a real nuisance up front with his determination and skill and more than once threatened to take the tie beyond the non-league braves.
Pools never looked in any danger in extra-time and they duly sprinkled on a bit of magic dust at the end.
With Salford committed to attacking in numbers searching for an equaliser, it gave Pools room to counter.
Sub Brad Walker, who made a difference to the side, was heading towards the corner flag which looked a sound bet – Salford could not score from 100 yards away.
But the teenager instead took the ball into the box and lifted a delightful cross to Mandron who volleyed past Jay Lynch with his left-foot.
How fitting that some sumptuous talent put the seal on what appeared to be the impossible less than an hour earlier.
That period of extra-time was in stark contrast to what had gone on beforehand.
The Pools forward line had struggled to get a touch in the first 45 minutes against a strong Salford defence while the midfield were similarly outplayed and out-muscled.
Salford had the best chance in the 10th minute when Carson spilled a cross and James Poole spooned his follow-up over he bar.
Lewis Hardcastle, full of energy in midfield, also went narrowly wide of Carson’s right-hand stick.
Pools had only one real move of note, Nicky Featherstone shooting straight at Jay Lynch from the edge of the box after neat inter-play with Connor Smith – in the XI for the injured Michael Duckworth – Fenwick and Oates.
After a terrible first half, Pools could surely not get any lower in the second half.
But they were. Much worse.
The excellent Salford took an iron-grip on the tie and refused to release their hold.
They were denied twice on 62 minutes by Carson. First, he got down to is left to save a Hardcastle shot destined for the corner before Poole put the rebound straight at him.
Poole also hit the wall with a free-kick, Hardcastle had several pots at goals, while Salford won corners aplenty.
Late on, sub Richie Allen saw another free-kick deflect off the wall and, fortunately for Pools, go to safety.
Pools held out and, as the game progressed, a goal looked inevitable, but for the reds not the blues.
But Pools dug deep and they turned it around. Great it was, perhaps, not but an escape? Most definitely.