DAYS after becoming the latest Hartlepool United player to be given a rough ride by the Victoria Park crowd, Gavin Strachan delivered the perfect riposte.

Plenty of players have been given a hard time by the moaners in the Mill House Stand over the years; plenty of them far, far worse footballers than Strachan.

And so it proved on Saturday, as the midfielder turned in a classy performance in the middle of the Port Vale park.

Strachan's answer wasn't quite the two-fingered salute once dished out to his detractors by Andy Toman a few years back, instead it was far more subtle as he dominated the midfield, former Pool midfielder Tommy Widdrington and all, at Vale Park.

Pool's victory came thanks to a Joel Porter goal after only 68 seconds.

So while seven days earlier they had to play for 83 minutes with ten men after Jack Ross was dismissed against Brentford, so this time they had 88 minutes to defend a lead.

But the Pool defence was hardly stretched as they made it five away wins from their last eight trips in League and Cup.

Only two players have breached the Pool defence in that time, Wrexham's Juan Ugarte and Torquay's Jo Kuffour.

This was Pool's third 1-0 win away from home in four games. Anymore of this and they will be labelled boring.

But the only bores around Victoria Park these days are those far too quick to criticise, because Pool fans, to coin a phrase, have never had it so good.

When Toman responded to taunts there was only 823 inside the Victoria Ground for an end of season affair with Hereford.

It's a shame Strachan's performance was only witnessed by 422 Pool fans, after 5,500 were watching the Luton game last week.

Neale Cooper was disappointed with the reaction when Strachan was replaced against Luton, but the Pool boss couldn't have been happier with the response, Strachan's especially, on Saturday.

"The players were a different class,'' he said.

"We had a chat about the last week and what has happened before the game. It wasn't negative, it was about the whole picture and the disappointment.

"We had the Jack Ross situation and that affected us for two games and we were playing against two of the top sides.

"I know we are up there, but the whole situation with the sending-off played a part.

"But we only lost to the league leaders by one goal and I felt one or two individuals were given a hard time by some of the crowd the other night.''

Cooper added: "Players were singled out for criticism and it was players who have never let me or the club down.

"If we don't win a game, what people will know is that they will get 100 per cent from the team. I have never had a problem with effort and work-rate from my players.

"Gavin was given a hard time the other night, which was very unfair, but he was superb at Port Vale.

"I had no problems putting him in the team again - it is not an issue for me.

"His whole attitude to the game and being a footballer is spot on. I pulled him to one side in training on Friday and spoke about it.

"I still really don't know why people were having a go like they did. OK, so he got caught with the ball a couple of times, but it was his first game for months and it was against the top team.

"To be hammered like he was by the crowd was very unfair, but he has gone out there again and gave an excellent performance.''

Perhaps it was Pool's formation and not individuals that didn't help against Luton and back to a normal 4-4-2 set-up, they looked a far more balanced side.

And, with Strachan and Antony Sweeney at ease in the middle of the park and Ben Clark and Micky Nelson dominant at the back, Pool showed they can cope without Chris Westwood and Mark Tinkler.

It's five years since Pool fielded a team without either of the pair.

Porter's goal, the quickest of the day, was enough against moderate opponents.

Ritchie Humphreys floated a lovely ball over the defence, Boyd got behind the square back four and passed for the Aussie to confidently lash home.

Cooper feels it often takes Porter too long to get into games, there could be no complaints this time.

Instead, Porter was again sacrificed in the last 20 minutes, despite tormenting the slumbering Michael Walsh all afternoon.

Boyd and Porter were too good for the defenders. Vale boss Martin Foyle had labelled Pool a "no-frills side" and perhaps it was a back-handed compliment, because how he would love his team to be the same.

If individually and collectively Pool are no frills, Vale, individually and collectively, must be bargain bucket, end of the line clearance stuff if you like.

With Strachan at his neat and tidy best, sitting in and allowing Sweeney the freedom to attack, it was always Pool who threatened. Even with three up front later on, Vale's threat was minimal.

Nelson saw a majestic overhead kick cannon back off the bar, Porter had two attempts to score - the first saved by Mark Goodlad and then he prodded the rebound over - and Sweeney was denied by the stretching keeper as he tried to dance around him.

Vale's only chance came late on. Dimi Konstantopoulos came 15 yards off his line for a high ball and missed it. Billy Paynter had the ball, but Pool had enough covering defenders to clear.

"I didn't go that far for my holidays,'' quipped Cooper.

The way things are going, supporters might be thinking of a weekend break in Cardiff in May; and what would there be to moan about that?

Result: Port Vale 0 Hartlepool United 1.

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