WE should never have been in this position in the first place.
Those were the words of Hartlepool United hero Jack Compton after sparking a Roy of the Rovers-style Hartlepool United comeback.
Compton’s magical left foot brought 10-man Pools level midway through the second half in a match that the club dared not lose after starting the day only two points above the drop zone.
And fellow Jack, Barmby, pounced for the winner just 10 minutes from time to send Victoria Park into delerium.
The win – the first in seven – lifted Pools to 52 points and safe from relegation.
It was a wonderful day for Pools whose place in the Football League was secured by home defeats for Northampton, Bristol Rovers and Exeter to Portsmouth, Exeter and Rochdale, while Wycombe lost at Fleetwood.
Accrington, Morecambe, Exeter, Northampton and Wycombe or Bristol Rovers could all still overtake Pools.
But they key words are Wycombe or Bristol Rovers. They play each other on Saturday and only the winner could get above Colin Cooper’s side. So Pools are safe – it’s official.
Compton’s a bright and intelligent lad and was spot on with his assessment.
Pools should never have been in this position. But they were and how they played themselves out of it.
And the two principal heroes were players who made their own sensational comic-book comebacks.
To say Compton and Barmby had under-achieved over the last three games would be an understatement.
Lacking invention and inspiration and, dare we say perspiration, the Jacks have been hugely frustrating figures.
Incredibly gifted? They have more talent in their left feet than many a player in their whole body.
But they had not been doing the business.
Twice they had started recent games and twice they had failed to hear the full-time whistle and it did not get any better at Burton on Saturday when they came on as subs.
But when it mattered most they delivered in sensational style.
Pools trailed to a 24th-minute Kevin Ellison header and their chances of avoiding a seventh defeat on the bounce seemed to have been dealt a devastating blow by the 57th-minute red card to Simon Walton – a player who has carried an almost lone fight over the last few depressing weeks.
However, Compton and Barmby were simply irresistable.
Compton entered the fray to loud boos in the 61st minute – more a reflection of Cooper’s decision to withdraw James Poole than the identity of his replacement.
Compton took on the challenge head on. He wanted the ball, he cherished the ball and he used the ball.
The Shrimps found the 25-year-old almost unplayable.
He beat players and put his speed and energy to good use.
And he put that delicious left boot of his to perfect use on 67 minutes.
He picked up the ball in the left channel, teed it up and let fly from 23 yards and it flew past the despairing dive of Barry Roche into his left corner of the net.
The Town End roof lifted off and it sparked one of the best half-an-hour’s excitement you will ever see at the Vic.
With Marlon Harewood superb up front, Pools piled on the pressure, but Morecambe were not without their chances.
And when a route one ball set nippy sub Jack Redshsaw clear he looked favourite to be the second Jack on the scoresheet. But Michael Duckworth got back to make a magnificent cover tackle.
Duckworth was in action in the away box soon afterwards and, perhaps too honestly, stayed on his feet when clipped when a touch of the Luis Suarezs could have won Pools a penalty.
Compton then beat two defenders with a blistering run but it was the industry and determination of Jonathan Franks which set up the winner.
He cut in from the left side of the box and opened up a shooting chance from the edge of the box. Roche made the block but the ball fell invitingly to Barmby, who had only been on the park a couple of minutes after replacing Andy Monkhouse.
The football was screaming to be hit but the teenager showed great composure to control it before passing it into the net for his fourth and most critical goal for Pools.
But it was not the end of the drama.
Redshaw went wide from the edge of the Pools box in the 82nd minute and Jordan Mustoe did likewise two minutes later.
Pools, amazingly had three chances to add to their lead. Brad Walker hit the bar with a super volley and Roche saved the rebound from Franks.
Franks then set off in a brilliant 60 yard run from the home box to the away box in the 89th minute only to be denied by Roche’s save.
Pools had to survive five minutes of stoppage time and survive they did, Scott Flinders, preferred in goal to Andy Rafferty, proving immovable as the last line of defence. Ryan Edwards and sub Padraig Amond went over in added time but Pools were not to be denied.
A week or two back, this reporter had witnessed Portsmouth beat Pools at Fratton Park and wondered who had won the game – the players or the Pompey fans.
Yesterday at the Vic, there was no doubt.
It was a team effort – an afternoon when the players and fans were truly United.
From pre-kick-off to full-time the support from the passionate crowd was incredible, even after Ellison had headed home from the far post following a cross from the right by Andy Parrish.
On the field, it got worse when Walton was sent off for a challenge on Mustoe by the touchline on the Mill House side.
Walton looked incredulous when the red card was brandished but, again, the supporters were out of this world lifting the noise yet higher.
But so too were the players.
None more so than Sam Collins who put in a tremendous effort as captain.
Talk about leading by example. He won everything and put his body on the line, superbly assisted by his central defensive partner Scott Harrison, who had his best game yet, and full-backs Duckworth and Darren Holden.
Walker took on more responsibility after Walton’s exit, as did Monkhouse and Franks who constantly probed and pushed.
So too did the positive Harewood, who played with determination and confidence, leading the line magnificently.
It was an afternoon for heroes and there were 13 of them – but the day belonged to the two Jacks, Compton and Barmby who produced the goods when it mattered most.