What we learned from Hartlepool United's 2-1 win over Yeovil Town – could Jason Kennedy's late winner be a season changer?
Hartlepool United are finally back to winning ways, but they certainly didn’t make things easy for themselves.
Yeovil Town arrived at Victoria Park on Saturday afternoon with their tails up having won each of their last seven National League games.
But it was Pools who looked full of confidence as they started the game on the front foot with Gime Toure forcing a good save from Glovers’ goalkeeper Adam Smith early on.
Fraser Kerr, Ryan Donaldson and Luke James came back into the United line-up with a positive impact. Donaldson and James’ pace and movement going forward had the visitors back-line pulled all over while Kerr displayed some effective no nonsense defending to help keep things quiet in front of the Pools goal.
At the other end, the Scottish centre-back also posed a threat and came close with a header which went just wide of the right post.
The hosts were quicker, sharper and more determined than their newly relegated opponents as they put them under a sustained period of pressure in the opening 45-minutes.
Last week, Craig Hignett’s side impressed during the first half at Eastleigh, creating numerous chances but only having a 1-0 lead to show for it before being pegged back in the second half. This time out things were slightly more concerning as despite United’s dominance, the first half remained goalless.
That concern was quickly quelled just two minutes into the second half when the persistently threatening Toure bundled in his seventh goal of the season following a neat interchange between Gus Mafuta and Peter Kioso – the former released the latter with a cutting pass down the right before the ball was pulled back across goal for Toure to put in.
It was nothing more than Pools deserved and they had chances to extend their lead further as the half wore on. The best opportunity fell to Donaldson who headed Kioso’s cross over the bar from the edge of the six-yard box.
As good as Pools were, their lead remained narrow and with that Yeovil always had a chance to get something from the game.
At 1-0, the pressure of Pools’ five game winless streak and the fact that they had yet to keep a clean sheet at The Vic this season was starting to seep into the game. Yeovil were starting to find openings and the pendulum began to shift in their favour late on.
But the home side remained resolute thanks to some exemplary defending namely by Michael Raynes to keep the clean sheet intact.
And just when it looked as though Hartlepool would see the single goal victory out, disaster struck.
Rhys Murphy’s 90-minute header found the bottom left side of the goal to draw Yeovil level. And the reaction of the visiting players and bench suggested that they knew they had robbed a point from the game.
A sense of gut-wrenching familiarity was felt by the 3,000-plus Poolies at The Vic and beyond – for all of 90-seconds.
Almost straight from kick-off, the United players displayed distinct determination to get forward and right the wrong that had just occurred. Substitute Nicky Featherstone burst into the area, turning brilliantly before cutting the ball back across goal for Jason Kennedy to stroke into the net to send the home crowd into raptures.
Limbs, scenes, ecstasy, whatever you want to call it – everyone went wild as the Pools players piled on top of Kennedy fittingly in front of the Town end. The difference a couple of weeks makes.
Though not completely perfect, the 2-1 win was arguably Pools’ best 90-minute display of the season so far. For the first time, Hignett’s side were at it from the first whistle and kept going until the very last second of the game with real togetherness and resolve.
And they got what they deserved, a third straight draw would have been a disaster given how the game had gone.
A point against the in-form side in the league would have been nothing to be sniffed at, but the context in which it very nearly happened would have been incredibly draining.
Points have been thrown away by Pools with alarming regularity, particularly at Victoria Park. And on the back of five games without a win and just one victory on home soil all season, patience would have been wearing precariously thin had the match ended 1-1.
As strong as Hartlepool were on Saturday, there’s no denying that Kennedy’s last minute strike got them out of jail.
While Pools must be commended for bouncing back from such a brutal set-back, a team should not have to play as well as they did and have to rely on a 92nd minute goal to win a match.
Once again, they should have been out of sight long before Yeovil equalised and that's a growing concern. All but one of Pools’ victories this season have been by a single goal as they’ve failed to truly put a team to the sword.
They have performance, they now need to keep it up consistently and get the scorelines to match.
To the team, a win will is a win. It doesn’t matter how they did it, just that they found a way to get the three points.
United have done that and they’ll learn more from it than they would had they simply seen out the 1-0 victory.
One game isn’t going to turn their season around – but that one minute just might.