BREAKING from the rhetoric of “improvement” and “spirit”, John Hughes saw fit to label Saturday’s trip to Portsmouth as “must win”.
It was a bold declaration, especially given the return of just one victory in ten attempts under his care.
Perhaps, however, he will now deploy the same tactic ahead of next weekend’s visit of Notts County.
For in placing such emphasis on the outcome of the relegation face-off, his players duly responded.
In many respects, the performance even outshone that of the 3-2 win at league leaders Sheffield United last month.
That, while worthy of celebration, was an against-theodds triumph on a bog of a pitch, home complacency also playing its part.
This, on the other hand, was the proverbial “six pointer”, Hughes had sought to make it such.
The pressure was on and the manager expected. He was not disappointed.
“This was a terrific win – we showed great fight and we were resolute,” said Hughes, goals from Jack Baldwin, James Poole and Greg Rutherford having moved Pools to within five points of their opponents.
“Everyone played a part – we had 13 heroes out there.
But since I’ve come in I’ve seen that in them.
“I’ve always said that you have to look for inspiration.
“We have to deal with the expectation and pressure and be a man and go and produce.
“They certainly did that as a team on Saturday.”
The inspiration of which Hughes so often talks was found on Saturday in the form of three relative rookies – 19, 22 and 18 the ages of the respective scorers.
And Hughes went on: “You need to find inspiration and that can come from so many different places.
“On Saturday it was the young ones leading from the front – Jack, Poolie and Greg with their goals.
“They were three very welltaken goals as well I must say.
“We could have even had more if we’d been a bit more ruthless.”
Baldwin headed the opener, taking his career tally to two having broken his duck during the midweek defeat to Bournemouth.
It arrived on 18 minutes, Evan Horwood landing a freekick on his brow and the midfielder did the rest with a cushioned nod into the bottom corner from 12 yards.
That it was the visitors who located the breakthrough goal owed much to goalkeeper Scott Flinders, the netminder having just moments earlier pulled off a fantastic treble save to keep the game goalless.
The platform had been laid.
Simon Walton then took aim with a stupendous longranger soon after Baldwin’s opener and only a smart save from Simon Eastwood prevented a goal-of-the-season contender.
Walton, like midfield comrade Ritchie Humphreys, formed the cornerstone for victory, refusing to waste a ball in the middle of the park.
Pools were good value for their half-time lead and, thanks to Poole, they established a two-goal cushion within seven minutes of the restart, Neil Austin’s forward ball causing problems for Pompey allowing the forward to race clear before arrowing into the top corner.
Poole could have put the game out of sight moments later but fired straight at Eastwood.
And so it was when teenager Jed Wallace volleyed a reply 23 minutes from time, those of a Pools persuasion feared the worst.
“It was tense that last 15 minutes or so and it was all Pompey, I admit that,” said Hughes.
“But we stuck to our gameplan and managed to turn them again and got the killer goal.”
Rutherford, the 18-year-old in his first season as a professional, had only been on the pitch for 60 seconds when his chance arrived.
Another novice, Pompey full-back Dan Butler, had presented the opening, his error affording Jonathan Franks possession 30 yards out.
He, in turn, fed Rutherford and the substitute ran in on goal before tucking beyond Eastwood.
It was a jubilant end to a pleasing day for Hughes.
“I was delighted for Greg,”
he said. “He went on and did exactly what we wanted him to.
“It was a cool finish, although I thought he’d got it stuck under his feet at first.
“But it capped a great day for us, now we’ve got to build on it.”
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