Full-time: Hartlepool United 2 Morecambe 1
RUNNING out of time, and games, with their Football League future in grave danger, Hartlepool United boss Colin Cooper gambled.
And a pair of Jacks turned their fortunes around to keep them out of the bottom two, ending relegation worries. Jack Compton scored the equaliser, Jack Barmby the winner.
With two games to go and a five-point cushion, Pools are now safe. Bristol Rovers and Wycombe, two of the teams below them, meet on Saturday. They both cannot overtake Pools.
With Torquay in bottom spot and ten points behind Pools, yesterday’s defeats for Northampton, Bristol Rovers, Exeter and, of course, Morecambe, means the real pressure is off for the last two games. Colin Cooper can now plan for next season.
Compton and Barmby have disappointed in recent weeks, neither impressing when given a chance and have been on the bench.
Were they really the sort of players you need in a relegation battle? Well it’s thanks to them there is no relegation battle any longer.
“I said to the two subs that this is their chance to be a hero and they both were,’’ said Cooper. “Both were positive and looked to do things in and around the box. Both were heroes to win it, but everyone was a hero out there and I don’t say it lightly.
“Jack Compton has ability in his left-foot and that was his most positive for weeks.
“Jack Barmby can manipulate a football and we have seen that – the way he did it for the goal was very calm and composed to drop his shoulder and slide it under the keeper is very good for a young player.’’
Compton’s goal got Pools level at a time they were down to ten men after Simon Walton’s dismissal.
He replaced James Poole on 61 minutes. Seven minutes later when he scored the jeers that heralded Poole’s removal were replaced by wild cheers.
Barmby has four goals for Pools in 16 games since signing on loan from Manchester United.
His first goal, against York was spectacular, his fourth was as cool as they come.
Jon Franks’ shot was saved by the legs of Paddy Roche. Barmby pounced, took a touch, shimmied to worry the keeper, before slotting it under him.
They still had to see the game out and needed some sterling defensive work at the back, Sam Collins coming to the fore in and around his own penalty area towards the end.
Pools reduced admission prices to only five pounds for the game, in the hope a bigger crowd would help the players, who looked shot to pieces as they left Burton following Saturday’s 3-0 defeat.
Almost 5,000 were inside yesterday and the atmosphere in the second-half as Pools turned the game around was something not heard for a long time.
But this performance deserved a reception – it was full of spirit and character, two factors sadly lacking in their six-game losing streak.
“We had 1,500 more than we have been having and I hope we have done enough to get them back,’’ said Cooper. “It’s been a good afternoon, a frenzied finish.
“There was heart, spirit and passion and an awful lot of technical ability on show.
“We’ve two games left, the one thing this result has done is free us a bit. If there’s been any tension, this frees it away.
“Today we put bodies on the line and it meant something – that’s how every game should be.’’
Without Luke James, who suffered an ankle injury at the weekend, Franks was paired up front with Marlon Harwood.
James Poole gets ahead of Andrew Wright during the first-half
Franks’ direct running caused problems, while Harewood put himself about more than he has of late and was a focal point.
At Burton, 15 minutes in and Harewood squandered a golden chance to give Pools the lead.
A minute later this time, and the opening may not have been as clear, but it was one that he should have done better from.
In on goal on the right side, he opted to shoot when a square ball to Poole looked ripe for a tap-in.
Some frantic defending, led by the dominant Collins, kept out a first spell of Morecambe pressure. It was a regular theme throughout when called upon.
Four minutes later however, Pools were behind. A cross from the right side was lobbed into the area and Kevin Ellison climbed above Michael Duckworth to head in.
Seeking a response, Bradley Walker chipped a Harewood pass up to volley well over, but until Andy Monkhouse sent a tame header at Roche in injury time, there was little to excite. That was to come later.
However, Pools could have been two-down.
From a floated corner from the same side from which the goal came, recalled keeper Scott Flinders dropped onto his line and Alex Kenyon planted a header over.
Scott Harrison, on loan from Sunderland, was having a solid game at the back, but he was robbed in a dangerous spot, giving Jamie Devitt possession. He fed Jack Sampson, but Darren Holden was clever enough to cover and block.
It wasn’t until Walton’s red card that the game – and Pools – took shape.
Cooper said: “The sending-off galvanised us as a group and the older players took it on their shoulders to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. They wanted to do something positive.’’
Opposite number Jim Bentley grumbled: “The turning point was the sending-off – it’s unbelievable how football turns around. It galvanised them and we went the other way, got caught up in it and the crowd lifted them.’’