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Happy Hughes salutes his scoring veterans
JOHN Hughes has saluted the elder statesman in his Hartlepool United squad, after they engineered a first victory under his control.
The pair were both on the scoresheet in Saturday's surprise 3-2 win at Sheffield United, Howard, 36, taking his tally for the season to three with two headed goals, with Humphreys, 35, bagging his first of the season.
Howard missed Hughes' first game in charge through suspension, but has played every game since, with Humphreys starting all seven of the Scot's games in charge of the club.
Pools have not won back to back games since last September and today, against a team with only one win in ten, they have a chance to put that record right.
"The old boys have been great,'' reflected Hughes.
"Stevie has played every 90 minutes and Ritchie has been great.
"Me and Micky [Barron] thought a lot about the substitutions and that's why we had different options on the bench. And they did well, even right down to Neil Austin going on late on.''
Goals for Pools - and Howard - have been all too rare this season, but taking his targetman out of the firing line wasn't in Hughes' thoughts.
"I was always going to keep faith with Steve,'' he said. "I keep saying I want to play a three-man midfield, I want to play Stevie up front with a runner around him and I also want to play two wingers, but I can only play 11.
"But I have to do whatever suits us and it worked with Stevie. We might have to change shape and personnel on Tuesday.
"When the ball comes in that box you need someone to go and head it and Steve has been different class since I came to the club.
"But we need to look after him - we have to nurse him through it.''
Pools were under pressure as they held a 3-1 lead for the last 18 minutes at Bramall Lane and Hughes said: "We looked to Stevie to see if he was okay and he held his hand up towards us - we didn't know whether he meant five minutes or I'm okay.
"He's a big focal point for us to play towards, but we need those legs around him such as Charlie Wyke and James Poole.
"I'm delighted for him that he got his reward with two goals.''
And he also had praise for Simon Walton. The midfielder has been a disappointment since his summer arrival from Plymouth, but gave his best display for the club against the Blades and Hughes said: "I'm delighted for Simon as well.
"You can see him getting on the ball and spraying it about. He'll only get better if we get behind him."
Pools look like missing out on a deal for Middlesbrough's Matty Dolan. After training with Pools, the midfielder is now with Yeovil and travelled to see their win at Portsmouth at the weekend.
Boss Gary Johnson hopes to secure a loan deal today and said: "Matthew Dolan we think is a very, very good midfield player. We hope to do something with him, but we've got to talk to Middlesbrough. So I can't jump the gun. He would be a good addition to the squad. Obviously we're in A1 position, because he's with us."
Hughes, however, remains hopeful and said: "We're still desperate to bring Matty to the club. We're in there battling our corner.
"It's important that the first player I bring to the club epitomises what we're all about. He's a local boy and he's a right good footballer - he wears his heart on his sleeve and is a Hartlepool supporter.
"So hopefully that will happen - although he might not get a game!''
Charlie Wyke is expected to be fit today after suffering an ankle knock at the weekend.