Full-time: Hartlepool United 3 Newport County 0
ON Thursday, speaking at his pre-match press conference, Colin Cooper admitted there’s a bit of a worrying and convenient script for Luke Williams.
The attacker had scored in Pools’ victory at Dagenham, at a time when his parent club Middlesbrough are struggling in front of goal.
“I think as soon as Luke starts playing as well as he has done for us, then gets a goal straightaway, it’s raised that Middlesbrough haven’t scored for four games,” mused Cooper. “People say why isn’t Luke Williams there?’’ So what happened next?
Again Williams scored, again Boro didn’t.
He’s available for two more games for Pools before his initial month-long loan expires.
Cooper wants to keep him, there’s every chance Boro will allow him to stay out on loan.
But will it be with Pools, or will he go somewhere else?
Pools have already seen that happen with Matty Dolan going back to Boro before moving to Bradford when he could quite conceivably have stopped at Victoria Park.
Cooper is doing what Gordon Strachan, Tony Mowbray – and to a lesser extent Aitor Karanka – have been unable to do and get Williams flourishing with the football.
“The way he has come in and embraced our ways and means is excellent. He just wants to enjoy playing football,’’ reflected Cooper.
“He got pushed into the front line at Middlesbrough aged 16, which is hard. Since then he’s been in and out and drifting along. There’s been talk of loans and every manager he’s played under has enjoyed and regonised his talent.
“For Middlesbrough in the Championship it’s about fitting him into a structure and giving him the chance to be creative, as he is for us. Do that and he can play in the Championship and beyond.
“Right now he needs to recognise he has a talent, express it and make sure he does a job for the team. He’s smiling and enjoying himself and he’s a credit to himself, his family and Middlesbrough.’’ Cooper has altered the formation of late, with Williams playing in a free role, centrally off the front men, and it suits him no end.
The manager added: “He is creative and he’s learned to be part of the team, working out of possession.
“Stick him wide and he can link up, cut inside. You want people to take the ball in tight areas and manipulate situations.
Having him central gives him a chance to be even more creative, and in and out of the ball he’s made goals, scored goals and been part of the team. He’s a terrific young man and footballer.’’ Williams has, in his four previous games for Pools, exerted more influence than this time, but he still delivered.
Two goals up and into injury time, he knocked the ball through the legs of Adam Chapman, swopped passes with Andy Monkhouse, and scored his second goal in as many games.
By then, the game was already won.
Luke James’ 11th of the season put Pools in front, and the second was a comical own goal from Adam Sandell, not that he knew much about it.
Before James’ opener four minutes before the break, there wasn’t a great deal between the sides.
But Simon Walton’s dynamism and determination created the chance. Jordan Richards’ cross evaded Andy Monkhouse, but Walton chased across field and swung the ball over to James. He turned smartly and fired in from 16 yards.
Luke James celebrates his goal
The second was also created by Walton, although the finish was more comedy than class.
His corner hit the spot, defender Harry Worley – once on trial at Pools under then manager Chris Turner – headed away, but he was clattered into by teammate Lee Minshull and his clearance hit Adam Sandell and bounced in.
Newport didn’t play with any of the same sort of energy they did in the game at Rodney Parade in November and were well beaten.
The Exiles’ home pitch is akin to a swamp and this was their eighth game from nine away from there after a string of postponements.
For Pools this was a third win in five and a third successive clean sheet. Tomorrow night’s game at Southend – Phil Brown’s side are the team in seventh – could have a big say in how the season shapes up.
“Our goalkeeper didn’t have a save to make and it’s credit to everyone around him,’’ added Cooper.
“How you play in your 18- yard box and in the opposition 18-yard box is key. In ours we blocked and headed and stopped and in theirs we were clinical.
“In League Two and League One it’s about 18-yard boxes – that’s your choice, your philosophy.
It’s the most important thing.
“Defend one well, be clinical in the other and that’s what we have done.’’