Full-time: Dagenham & Redbridge 0 Hartlepool United 2
FOR all the youthful promise and potential in the Hartlepool United side, it was a couple of the older heads at the fore to earn victory.
Pools won well at Dagenham, a victory to push them to 11th in the League Two table. It was a third clean sheet in four and a second victory in that spell – seven points from a possible 12.
They should really have won the one they threw away, at Wimbledon two weeks back.
Two of those shut-outs have come in the last two outings.
And while there’s no danger of anyone belittling Jack Baldwin, his exit has opened the door for Sam Collins to come back into the side.
He would have replaced Baldwin for these games anyway, as Peterborough’s new £500,000 centre-half was suspended.
The way Collins has performed, would Colin Cooper have put Baldwin back in if he hadn’t left?
Perhaps it’s a futile question now, but there’s little doubt Collins has proved his value.
You can buy potential and ability, it’s just cost Posh at least half a million pounds, but you can’t put a price on experience.
Pools’ last away win came at Morecambe in December, a team with an average age of 23. This time there was Collins and goalscorer Andy Monkouse and Marlon Harewood to help up the age.
“If you combine the ages of the other defenders on Saturday, they will be somewhere near mine!’’ quipped Collins.
And, in a back four alongside Jordan Richards (20), Christian Burgess (22) and Darren Holden (20), the 36- year-old proved a calming influence.
Dagenham had a few chances, as Cooper admitted his side rode their luck to a certain extent.
The Daggers hit a post in the first half and messily pushed the simple rebound wide. But when they put the ball forward, Collins was under it – or organising his other defenders to deal with the threat.
“It’s so good to be back playing, it’s good for Jack to move on and he will move to bigger and better things,’’ reflected Collins. “The gaffer has asked me to play and I’ll play as long as I can, that’s all I want to do.
“If you are 17, 18 or 36, 37 you are always seeking match sharpness, but I’ve always kept myself fit and that’s never been a problem for me.
“The plan is to get through the games without any trouble – as a central defender if you can use your voice and keep the others in check and get them organised then you should be OK. I’ve tried to get that across to the players this season: communicate and it makes your job easier.
“They have all started to get better and now I’m in I can help them first hand and close up. Christian has the potential to play higher like Jack can, so I hope I can help him.’’ While Collins and Co kept a solid base at the back – the veteran took a shot in the chest while blocking a goalbound effort – it allowed the flair players to flourish.
Bradley Walker has the uncanny knack of using the ball well and simply ball in tight situations and his deft touch set up the opener.
His header dropped invitingly for Luke Williams to dip a volley at goal that may have been deflected, but was always asking questions of the goalkeeper.
Centre-half Sam Collins wins another header
And the second was a wellworked team goal. Jon Franks did well out wide to hold the ball and pick out his cross that than hit the box early.
Luke James, hardly a targetman, peeled away to head the ball down for Monkhouse to apply a cool finish.
The gap to the top seven is nine points, far from insurmountable with 16 games to come.
“It’s not far away from the perfect away performance in tough conditions,’’ added Collins. “A clean sheet will always give us a platform to score at the other end.
“Some of our forward play at times was very good, with the two Lukes causing problems.
Be resilient at the back and it will come.
“We worked hard for it. To come away like this and win makes all the work worthwhile.
“Luke took his goal well, he’s been different class in all the games he played for us and I’m surprised he’s not in Middlesbrough’s first team from what I’ve seen. He’s a really good player, the longer we keep him the better.”