On what was otherwise a bitterly cold January afternoon in the North-East, Victoria Park became an extremely happy hunting ground for the Iron – as goals from Sam Togwell & Garry Thompson guided Alan Knill’s men to a well-deserved win and three points.
The victory, our first since October – starts 2012 in fabulous fashion: and gave the 288 strong travelling army in the away end, alongside the 11 soldiers on the pitch: something to smile about indeed.
And whilst less than 300 might seem paltry – it must have seemed like there was dozens times that. The atmosphere with the fans was so intense it was almost psychotic. Not often you get to describe an afternoon out in Hartlepool like that eh?!
And under this context – it makes the tight-knit group of the players and the fans all the more important. It’s the small things that can very often make the difference. Typified with Slocombe racing 80 yards to celebrate with them: or all those last minute blocks, headers and tackles. Bloody brilliant lads.
With confidence having previously been so fragile – it was a pleasure to see so few passes being misplaced, and real fire in everyone’s gut for the entire proceedings this time.
A considerably better performance than all over the past few months – and whilst we might moan about previous lack of performances, (1 swallow doesn’t make a summer etc), if they can consistently produce performances like this one – then it will be up, and not down – the table that we will be looking at for a stretch of time thankfully.
This win sees us crawl up to 18th and stretch the gap on the dreaded drop zone to 2 points and a better goal-difference. This of course, is not enough. But after Bury and the fall into the trap door, it’s a start.
And whilst Hartlepool have an absolutely wretched home record, and have now dropped to just one place above the Iron: it’s not as if our away record was fabulous either. So anything that can begin to correct that – and in such a positively encouraging manner is a bonus.
The 4-5-1 formation worked a treat, and when were attacking: it was done in numbers. The support was there, the movement was better: and there was no over-playing at the back thankfully. Everything was done to just about solid foundations – and you couldn’t even blame anyone for Hartlepool’s goal for a change!
And with a 12 day gap now appearing from now, till the Iron’s next game, (January 14th’s trip to Colchester), it’s hoped that building confidence – and another good performance coupled with amazing atmosphere in the away end: there’s no reason why another 3 points can’t be found to kick the Claret & Blue Army on.
Three changes were made from the side that drew with Chesterfield, as the Iron looked to start 2012 with a bang.
Returning from suspension, versatile Eddie Nolan came in for the injured Cliff Byrne. This thus had the Irishman at left-back, with the incredibly versatile and dependably Sam Togwell shifted to right-back.
Keeper Sam Slocombe, came in for Johnstone after the latter’s shocking game against Chesterfield, and it was a relief to see the former: and ex-Bottesford stopper have an excellent day for the Iron at Victoria Park.
The Iron’s final change was thus Garry Thompson replacing Chris Dagnall in a straight swap.
This thus ensured a 4-5-1, cum 4-3-3 lineup for Scunny: starting with Slocombe in goal.
He was behind our back four of: right to left – of: Sam Togwell, Shane Duffy, Niall Canavan and Eddie Nolan.
In front of them were the central midfield three of: Michael O’Connor, Jimmy Ryan and Oliver Norwood. This ensured Garry Thompson and Andy Barcham were attacking down the flanks – attempting to support the lone central front-man of Jordan Robertson.
It was a fairly scrappy start to the game, although the Iron did from the very off, seem to have the better of their hosts: especially on the counter and from set pieces.
But following the recent collapses having taken the lead against Notts County, Carlisle, Bury and Chesterfield, everyone knew that a good start simply wasn’t going to be enough. It had to be continued, and finished upon.
Ryan & O’Connor both had relatively early efforts for the Iron – but it was the on-form Scott Flinders in goal for the Pools who was able to deny them both, and ended up playing well all game.
But the Iron’s hard work ultimately did pay off: as the best move of the match gave the visitors their justly deserved first goal.
Sam Togwell started off the move, played a gorgeous one-two with Thompson on the right: then again with Jordan Robertson – before it was deftly dragged back to the on-rushing Iron skipper to curl home a lovely goal from 12 yards.
Up in nose-bleed territory: it was an absolute joy to see Sam end the move he’d started, and in such enjoyable fashion that it sent the players and the fans jointly berserk.
This was the perfect development for the Iron on the half-hour mark, although thankfully we kept pressing and fantastic to see that extra oomph of passion and desire from the players was being rewarded.
Sam Slocombe – under much encouragement from the away end behind him, did well to deny Boyd and when tested, was in excellent form.
The 288 fans behind the goal, had already been enjoying themselves long before the game started: but the goal was cue, even more then before, for it to resemble a mix of an illegal rave and the old Beserker Viking tribe noted for their insane commitment to the cause.
But apart from that, and another speculative effort from Ryan: the half ended relatively trouble free – and all with Scunthorpe United at their heart, were delighted to get into half-time in the lead, and deservedly so.
HALF-TIME: Hartlepool United 0-1 Scunthorpe United
The 2nd half was certainly a lot more open, with the Iron thankfully pushing on and on – perhaps more than aware of their fragility when in front: and were thus desperate to improve further.
Boyd once more had a couple of half chances for the home side, with a header flicked wide and stabbed effort well blocked by the impressive Iron defence – but the entire back four were excellent.
Scunny really kicked on down the left flank when Nolan did absolutely brilliantly on the counter to beat a couple of men.
The Irish defender then fizzed in an absolutely wicked cross across the face of goal. Jordan Robertson flung himself along the ground at it – but the former Sheff Utd front man couldn’t quite reach it: somehow only inches away from doubling Scunny’s lead.
But then in the 64th minute: Pool had their best chance of the game – reminding the Iron they were still a threat every now and then: but James Brown could only direct his header over the bar.
And thankfully in the end – the Iron made them pay for this.
In the 74th minute, the Iron did excellently to dispossess Hartlepool from their own thrown in inside the Iron’s half.
It was fed to Garry Thompson who shrugged off one defender, outpaced another – and in a viciously impressive counter-attack, just ran and ran and ran: held off the tracking defenders – and as the keeper came out: flicked it delicately over the despairing keeper.
It was an absolutely fantastic individual goal from Thommo – who did brilliantly well. Gorgeously calm and effective – showing just how and why he’s been back to his best and been playing so well for the Iron of late.
There’s a tiny minority who won’t let go of his previous struggles, but this isn’t even big enough to be a tiny minority. Hopefully: Thommo will just instead revel in the support of the hundreds away, and the thousands at home.
And frankly – with goals and performances like that: what on earth is not to like!?
The roof nearly came off the away end – and was the cue for a rather cheesy Scunthorpe United take on the “Poznan” – the backwards linked celebration as perfected by Celtic and Manchester City.
That energy and desperation for a win from all concerned – players and fans alike, was plain to see in the release when all finally thought that the win was in the bag.
Definitely the reason for all the away fans to partake in a huge conga round two thirds of the away end: and as much as the police got hot under the collar – it was absolutely brilliant to cap it all off at the end. Believe me, the fans had earned it. I’d certainly love to see some footage of it!
But with just under 15 minutes left – there’s perhaps an argument that it was a touch premature – but with the Iron well in charge and pushing for a third: it seemed out of the question.
Having missed an half-decent chance earlier, Barcham was frustrated to once more do the same and deny the Iron a 3rd. He did absolutely brilliantly to win the ball and beat the defenders – but was denied by the impressive Flinders.
Yet then with 6 minutes of normal time left – a thunderous strike from Andy Monkhouse gave the Pools a lifeline they hadn’t really deserved.
It was a lovely drilled effort – and it was no coincidence that the most threatening the hosts looked was when they temporarily, and probably accidentally, abandoned their incredibly long ball, direct and physical approach to the afternoon’s proceedings.
Pace and skill are what readily exploit the Iron – not just lumping it long in hope.
Having seen this in action – you’d have thought the home team would have tried to keep the ball grounded as much as possible whilst racing to find that ever elusive undeserved and shock equaliser.
But they rather oddly did the very opposite: and went even more direct. The Iron naturally dropped deeper – but dealt expertly with the aerial threats.
Togwell organised the defence brilliantly – leading them in the crunch moments, as he had done all game. Slocombe was absolutely top drawer as keeper as well. Saving what he had to, and got every single major decision spot on. He knew when not to come, when to come – and when to punch: or catch it. Expert stuff.
And the defence held out absolutely brilliantly. One late sub was made – taking off the shattered Barcham, but the 4+ minutes of stoppage time went fairly routinely. One cross nearly found Brown un-marked at the back post: but that was it.
Great credit must go to all the Scunny players and fans – who all contributed to a fantastic win and day for all concerned. Fabulous stuff! More of the same away to please Colchester lads.
FULL-TIME: Hartlepool United 1-2 Scunthorpe United