Merrily And Hartle We Go, As County Enjoy Pools Win!
An impressive first-half performance saw the Hatters win for the first time in seven matches, and for the third successive occasion under the Edgeley Park floodlights, as they edged out Hartlepool by the odd goal in three to move up three places to 15th and, completing a triplicate of threes, to within the same number of points of the play-off positions.
Early strikes by Ash Palmer and newly-returned loanee midfielder Tom Walker put County in command, before a second-half resurgence saw ‘Pools’ pull a goal back with five minutes remaining to set up a nervy finish.
The Hatters took to the field, and in front of the television cameras, showing four changes from the starting line-up at Sutton United four days earlier. Festus Arthur, Joe Leesley and Nyal Bell were all recalled, while Tom Walker, beginning a second spell at EP, went straight into the side – although fellow new arrival Devante Rodney, also on loan from Salford City, had picked up a knock that delayed any debut appearance up front on his part. Dan Cowan, Elliot Osborne, Adam Hammill and Frank Mulhern comprised the quartet to make way and occupy places on the bench.
Hartlepool started on the front foot – but, after five minutes, the Hatters were to go ahead with their earliest goal of the season thus far, following the game’s first corner. Adam Thomas played a short delivery from the left for Tom Walker to cross to Palmer, who drilled home from 12 yards.
Within another three minutes, a County break almost led to a doubling of the advantage, when Tom Walker, already with an assist to his name, combined brilliantly with Sam Minihan – only to see his carefully-weighted shot tipped against the left post by goalkeeper Ben Killip.
Pools’ captain Ryan Donaldson cut in from the left and fired narrowly over, by way of his team’s first notable chance before the 20-minute mark. But just over a minute later, Tom Walker’s debut became all the more dreamier – courtesy of a low drive past Killip that made it two for the Hatters, after a Thomas cross from the right had initially fallen for Bell deftly to tee up the scorer.
Mark Kitching and Donaldson unleashed shots beyond County’s left post, as the visitors, who had not won in SK3 for 16 years, enjoyed a spell of possession. But County ended the half strongly, and hit the woodwork again when a Thomas shot was deflected on to the crossbar – before earning three corners in as many minutes immediately ahead of the interval.
HALF-TIME: County 2 (Palmer, 5; T Walker, 21), Hartlepool 0.
With Hartlepool having only trailed once before at the break, and the Hatters having enjoyed just one previous half-time lead, in the current campaign, both sides found themselves in relatively unfamiliar territory as they emerged for the re-start. The visitors, looking to escape their particular surroundings, earned an inaugural corner seven minutes after the resumption, and then produced their first attempt on target – with Ben Hinchliffe diving to smother Kitching’s long-range shot.
Joe Leesley, with 65 minutes on the clock, delivered a tempting cross from the left towards the back post – but the onrushing Bell fired wide. And moments later, French striker Gime Touré tested Hinchliffe with a looping header that County’s Number One clawed off the line in mid-air.
Former Hatter Michael Raynes connected with a free-kick to head wide, as Hartlepool began to exert a threatening presence in the County half, before both Touré and substitute Josh Hawkes fired efforts over.
Then, in the 85th minute, another of the visitors’ players from their bench, Nicke Kabamba, halved the arrears – slotting home at close range, after Hinchliffe could only parry Nicky Featherstone’s shot from distance.
Four minutes of added time felt like many more, as Hartlepool continued to press. Hinchliffe superbly tipped over a Touré shot, as well as catching a goal-bound header from Fraser Kerr. And the very last kick of the game was of the free variety, from just outside the County box – but, to general collective relief, Hawkes fired his delivery over.
FULL-TIME: County 2 (Palmer, 5; T Walker, 21), Hartlepool 0 (Kabamba, 85).
Team (3-4-1-2): Hinchliffe; Arthur, Palmer, Keane; Minihan, Turnbull (Capt.), S Walker, Leesley; T Walker (Osborne, 81); Thomas (Cowan, 64), Bell (Mulhern, 73).
Unused Subs: Ormson, Hammill.
Booked: Turnbull, Leesley.
Man of the Match: T Walker.
Attendance: 3,465 (168 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.