SO much for the so-called manager of the month curse.
Days after Hartlepool United gaffer Colin Cooper was awarded the Sky Bet League Two manager of the month gong, his side took to the field for a potentially tricky FA Cup first round match against Notts County.
Yet on the basis of Saturday’s display, a neutral inside Victoria Park would have been forgiven for thinking it was Pools plying their trade in League One.
While the scoreline may have suggested a close encounter, Pools were relatively comfortable for large periods and Cooper’s assessment afterwards was that his team were the better side by a “long shot”.
Hard to argue really. And the entertaining win makes it seven wins out of eight in all competitions and four consecutive home wins.
A bullet header from Jack Baldwin and a pair of poacher’s goals from in-form Luke James, the recipient of the player of the month award for October, was ultimately enough to see Pools into the Second Round.
It was the third time this season Pools had faced League One opposition in cup competitions and they once again passed the test with flying colours.
The biggest compliment Pools were paid was then County had to concede in the second half that they weren’t good enough to pass the ball around Cooper’s men and instead were forced to lump balls into the penalty box.
Notts County – who had ex-Poolie Gary Liddle in defence – also conceded 17 fouls to Pools’ six. While stats never tell the full picture, that alone gives a clear indication of the way new boss Shaun Derry wanted his side to play.
The 35-year-old former QPR midfielder was given his first job in management last week and if he was hoping for a response from his men, currently rooted to the foot of League One, then he didn’t really get one.
Yes, they were competitive and forced Pools to fight for the win but in truth the home side were better all over the pitch, played the better football and made the most of their opportunities.
And when it comes to taking opportunities, look no further than Amble-born James.
The 18-year-old again produced a master class in how to be a pest, hustling and bustling the opposition throughout and he got his rewards with a fine brace, numbers eight and nine for the season.
They weren’t the best goals he will ever score but Cooper was delighted James had taken on board everything the coaching staff had been telling him when it comes to gambling in the box.
The teenager has added a new string to his bow and the on-looking scouts will no doubt have been impressed with his sheer enthusiasm and will to win.
On a day when Pools were sporting a smart one-off strip in aid of the British Legion’s Poppy Appeal, the two sides were also playing with a brand new mango-coloured football, specially designed for the FA Cup.
And it was Pools, with Sam Collins in for the suspended Christian Burgess at the back, that started brightly.
Indeed, it took just 16 minutes for Pools to open the scoring, Jack Baldwin with a bullet header from six yards after a pin-point Simon Walton free-kick found the defender free.
Sadly, it didn’t last long and the 233-strong travelling supporters were soon cheering two minutes later thanks to a goal centre-half Dean Leacock knew nothing about.
From a corner, on-loan Middlesbrough midfielder Matty Dolan cleared the ball from the six-yard line only for it to ricochet off the back of Leacock and past Dolan into the Pools goal.
It was an entertaining first half and Leacock, Andy Monkhouse and Dolan all had further opportunities to put their team in front, while the tumbling Callum McGregor should certainly have made it 2-1 to County but the on-loan Celtic midfielder couldn’t score from a yard out.
That was to prove costly as James struck in the 42nd minute. He tapped the ball in after Bartosz Bialkowski had deflected Michael Duckworth’s low drive from 20 yards into his path.
A cheeky smile to the home bench said it all. The goal was no fluke for Luke. It was one born from hours on the training ground.
As the temperatures plummeted, so did the quality of football and despite several corners for County, few chances of any real note were created in the opening stages of the second half.
Then, in the 74th minute, James struck again from close range to give Cooper’s side a 3-1 lead.
Dolan’s whipped free-kick cannoned off the right-hand post to Jonathan Franks on the edge of the area and his crisp, low strike deflected to James who made no mistake in firing home.
“Easy, easy” chanted the home fans as an ecstatic James wheeled away in celebration.
Derry’s side did show some intent and their pressure paid off in the 84th minute, substitute Ronan Murray volleying emphatically past Scott Flinders to narrow the deficit to just one goal.
But there was to be no magical cup equaliser for the away side.
The last time Pools reached the FA Cup Second Round was in 2010-11, thanks to a 1-0 victory in a replay at Vauxhall Motors. Pools then went on to beat Yeovil before ultimately falling to Watford in the Third Round.
Colin Cooper will be looking for the class of 2013 to go as far as they can in the competition while hoping to overcome many more manager of the month curses in the coming months.