Full-time: Hatlepool United 4 Bristol Rovers 0
BRADLEY WALKER doesn’t seem to score simple goals. The Hartlepool United midfielder is enjoying his own private goal-of-the-season competition.
After his memorable first for the club, a first-time outside of the boot finish from 20 yards against Burton before Christmas, he’s twice bettered it.
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First, at Southend last month, he volleyed a stunning effort home from 30 yards.
Then, on Saturday as Pools brushed aside a desperate Bristol Rovers team, he brought the Victoria Park house down.
Taking a square ball from Jack Barmby, the 17-year-old moved the ball out of a tight situation, something he’s proved time over he’s adept at.
It created enough space to get a shot in and he curled a swanky 25-yarder into the bottom corner.
In the first 30 minutes, Walker oozed confidence and class. He was a young man dominating in a man’s game.
The only question afterwards was how long is it before the bids start rolling in during the summer.
Midfielders of his maturity and talent don’t come around often.
“We run out of superlatives for that boy – he’s an exceptional talent and an awful lot of teams are watching him,’’ said Cooper. “We are very keen to secure his future here.’’ He signed his first professional contract after making a mark in pre-season and Cooper’s comments indicate Pools could be ready to reward the Billingham teenager with something further.
“I think Jack Barmby had the ball and I expected to come my way, I opened up and just hit it and it’s gone straight in,’’ recalled Walker.
“When Craig Hignett was here we did shooting drills – he would throw the ball up and I was just, I suppose, whack it.
“I keep doing it and I’ve been practising a lot and thankfully it went in. My touch set it up, I faked to go one way, opened up my body and hit it.
“This was a bit of a blur, but the goal at Southend takes some beating. It’s a great feeling – you can’t describe the adrenalin rush. Class.’’ Pools took the lead on just 58 seconds, Barmby’s corner flicked on by Luke James for Marlon Harewood, unmarked in the area, to simply nod in.
Two goals to the good against the team with the worst away record in the division, not every game is as routine as this one.
But as poor as the Pirates were – their back four especially pitiful – Pools were excellent.
Full of confidence and in complete control, one club official quipped he didn’t realise it was an exhibition match as Walker showboated in midfield.
But, when Pools were put under any sort of pressure, they had Sam Collins giving a defensive masterclass. He will have busier games, when he’s under a lot more pressure, but everything he was asked to do he did ever so well.
Since Jack Baldwin departed, Pools have kept six clean sheets in nine games with Collins in the team.
It’s fair to say the opposition back four were nowhere near as competent.
Pools got a penalty when Tom Parkes lunged in after Harewood got past him in the area.
Harewood wanted to take it, but Simon Walton is Pools’ regular penalty taker and he didn’t mess about.
The fourth came when willo the wisp James tore away down the left, cut inside and clipped the post, but Jon Franks followed in to complete the day.
Three wins, ten goals scored and none conceded in their last three home games.
Pools’ Jack Barmby in a mid-air tussle with Rovers’ midfielder John-Joe O’Toole
Walker added: “We have nine games left and we can push on and be up there to the end of the season.
“We need a run put together and we can be up there, the football we play is magnificent.
“After the draw in midweek, the gaffer said we couldn’t pass this one up, we had to go for it from the start and we were up for it.
“The early goal helped us so much and we went on from there. Their keeper has made two very good saved, but I got a goal, we got a clean sheet and won it.
“We have three good wins at home in a row now – two at 3-0, one at 4-0. The goals are there and so are the clean sheets.
“The fans get behind us, there’s no negative thoughts and we all kick on.
“Sam was brilliant, some of the blocks were vital and I’ve never seen him lose a header – he’s a credit to the club.
“I’ve had a brilliant season so far, now I want to kick on.
Everyone is buzzing, so confident and looking to the next game.
“It’s going to be a tough one, they all are, but there’s more to come from us.’’