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Hartlepool United 3 AFC Wimbledon 1
FIRST Luke James was being compared to Michael Owen; last night he could be likened to a long-time Victoria Park crowd favourite.
If James’ solo goal against Plymouth was akin to Owen scoring against Argentina in France 98, his latest comparison puts him up against Bob Newton.
He’s hardly a towering centre-forward, but his header last night in the win over AFC Wimbledon was as good as anything Newton managed in his powerful pomp.
With the score at 1-1, Simon Walton – who put Pools ahead from the spot – played the ball forward into the area.
Centre-half Alan Bennett was shaping up for a free defensive header. That was, however, without thinking about James, who darted across the line, won the ball and looped his header high over goalkeeper Ross Worner into the net.
It put Pools back in front and Matty Dolan finished things off with a strike from distance.
Pools have now won five in a row – 12 points from 12 in League Two and a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy victory.
And Cooper insists there is a lot more to come from his players.
He admitted: “The job was done. The same has to be said about Saturday. The difference between these two games and earlier in the season is that we seem to have found a way to get in front and stay in front.
“We have pasted teams without finding a finish – now by luck or judgement, we are in front, defending for our lives and finding something on the counter attack.
“The goals have come at good times for us.’’ Pools went in front on 32 minutes when Simon Walton scored from the penalty spot, but a penalty for the visitors on 55 minutes levelled the scores.
“I think if you look at both penalty incidents, they could go either way. It’s nice to see Matty Dolan and Simon on the the scoresheet and Luke again when he no right to.’’ He added: “But when Wimbledon started loading our box, we had a goalkeeper coming to get the ball and two defenders in front of him who were winning headers.
“It was by no means perfect, and we can be so much better, but they are putting so much effort to win games.
“It’s a nice feeling to have, being confident. The mindset can shift quickly. You are used to losing, go behind and it’s here we go again.
“Now we go in front, score, and it’s here we go again.
“We can be so much better and raise standards and quality, but we are hard to break down and scoring nice goals.’’ There wasn’t a quick start from Pools last night, not even after their determined home win over Plymouth.
They looked most likely to find a breakthrough from a Dolan free-kick. He curled a couple of teasing efforts into the area, that caused problems.
But the visitors were willing runners on the counter attack and, in Michael Smith, the former Darlington striker, they had a useful outlet up front.
It was 25 minutes or so before Pools enjoyed some real worthwhile possession. And with it they grew into the game after keeping the ball with purpose.
Dolan’s shot from distance had keeper Worner springing across goal to keep it out.
And two minutes later they took the lead.
James Poole was working away in the penalty area, but going away from goal when he was knocked over from behind by Alan Bennett. Visiting boss Neal Ardley was furious with his centre-half.
With Jack Compton suspended, Simon Walton took over penalty duties. After the way he drilled this one in, Compton will have a fight on his hands to get another opportunity.
But Pools could have been pegged back instantly and only a fine save from Flinders kept them level after Smith’s fierce shot was kept out and defender Jack Baldwin – who enjoyed another strong game at the back – mopped up the loose ball.
On half-time Bennett had a chance to atone for his penalty error, but sent a free header over from eight yards after escaping his marker at a corner.
The visitors, now four games without a win, were given a way back when Andy Monkhouse knocked George Porter over in the area.
Ardley felt the penalty was a case of the referee balancing out the earlier decision. Harry Pell sent Flinders the wrong way from 12 yards.
Pools’ keeper has conceded twice in the five-game winning streak – both from the spot.
It was a time when the visitors were enjoying their best spell.
But Pools hit back with James’ header and, Dolan wrapped it up with a low strike that had far too much for keeper Worner.
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