Leyton Orient 0 Hartlepool United 2: Roy Kelly's match analysis, Craig Hignett for manager of month
Craig Hignett: manager of the month.
Six words not even the world’s greatest optimist would have uttered after Hartlepool United collapsed to a 4-1 defeat at Bristol Rovers on March 1.
But, Hignett could be in line for the accolade after his first full month as a boss after Pools produced a magnificent win at Leyton Orient
Perfection has emerged from the aberration which was the night at the Memorial Stadium.
Ironically, the man in charge of Rovers, Darrell Clarke, might be the man that denies Hignett after his team pocketed 15 points compared to 14 by his former club.
But why shouldn’t it go to the new Pools boss?
Pools are unbeaten in six games – four wins and two draws and perhaps the telling stat, four clean sheets in a row, a sequence the club has not achieved since 2004 when Neale Cooper was boss.
Given three of the shut-outs have been on the road and the two over Easter against play-off chasers and there is a compelling argument that Hignett should get it
If he doesn’t, the manager or any Poolies will not lose any sleep.
After that Bristol shambles, the team were only two points above the bottom two. Today the gap is 14 and Pools are up to 17th thanks to their best performance under Hignett. You will struggle to find a better away display, anywhere.
From the brilliance of Trevor Carson between the sticks to the industry and predatory striking skills of Billy Paynter up top, Pools were always that step ahead of Leyton Orient, which is quite a boast given that the O’s are chasing a place in the play-offs.
It was hard at times to tell which was the side knocking on the door of the top seven and which was the club who, until recently, was hovering above the Football League’s trapdoor.
The victory was built on defence – the back four of Carl Magnay, Matthew Bates, Adam Jackson and Jake Carroll never pretty much unbeatable and the coupe of occasions they were, Carson intervened.
Ahead of them, Nicky Featherstone, one early gaffe aside was class personified, with Jake Gray and Lewis Hawkins ideal midfield companions.
Paynter was superb with Luke James and Nathan Thomas full of running either side.
And it says so much for Pools that so little was seen of O’s player-boss Kevin Nolan who subbed himself on the hour.
Pools went into the game having not conceded a goal in 327 minutes. Featherstone almost gifted the Eastenders a fifth-minute opener when he gave possession away on the edge of the box.
However, Armand Gnanduillet seemed shocked the ball had dropped at his feet and could not keep his shot down.
Pools soon had a sight at goal whenJackson headed wide of Alex Cisak’s right-hand post with a header from a Thomas free-kick.
Orient had their first real chance in the 28th minute when Ollie Palmer beat Bates down the left before cutting in, with Jackson deflecting his shot wide.
There was more great defending by Carroll and Jackson in the box before Carson got down well to left to save from home player-boss Kevin Nolan.
Those moments aside, Pools looked very much at home against the Londoners, whose fans were getting a little edgy.
And the tension rose further in the 44th minute. Thomas was chopped down wide on the left by Sean Clohessy and the front man whipped in a free-kick onto the head of Paynter, who buried the chance high past Cisak, only for the linesman’s offside flag to stifle any celebrations.
But everything comes to he who waits, as proven in the 49th minute after Hignett had swapped sides for James and Thomas for the second half.
James moved left where he combined nicely with Carroll who strode forward to the box where he played the most inviting of crosses into the six-yard box.
Paynter was happy to accept as he slid in to convert from a few yards.
James is getting closer to a goal and he had a go himself shortly afterwards when he headed over after Peter Ramage struggled to clear a Magnay cross.
However, Pools did double their lead on 69 minutes and it was another beauty from Thomas.
Lewis Hawkins did the hard yards, finding Thomas on the right of the box. The forward left defender Frazer Shaw for dead before breaking into the box and firing a deadly left-foot shot high past Cisak.
It was almost 3-0 in the 75th-minute when Cisak pulled off a tremendous save from a 25-yard Hawkins stunner which had looked destined for his top left corner.
Leyton Orient, desperate for the points to move into the top seven,made loud appeals for a penalty when Featherstone blocked an effort on the line from sub Blair Turgott.
The O’s kept up the pressure and Jerome Binnom-Williams’ header was superbly kept out by Carson’s flying full-length save to his right.
Carson was soon at it again when he dived low to his left this time to smother a Jay Simpson shot.
However, it was Pools who almost had a third at the end when Brad Walker sent fellow sub Michael Woods clear but the midfielder had his shot blocked by Cisak.
It would have been greedy to have netted another – a 2-0 scoreline in London is ample proof that Pools are on the March in League Two.