THIS bus drives itself: Gordon Watson, 2002.

Hartlepool United had lost Chris Turner to Sheffield Wednesday, with Pools top of the League Two table. They needed a new manager. Wise Watson knew what was needed. 

Mike Newell arrived and the dynamics changed a bit. The bus didn’t quite drive itself in the end.

At the time, Antony Sweeney was a fresh-faced midfield prospect; he had five League Two performances to his name and would go onto make another 439 Pools appearances.

Today he is the Pools bus driver. He’s led the side to three victories since being asked to take temporary command by chairman Raj Singh after Craig Hignett was dumped.

The new man at the wheel isn’t taking the squad down a new road.

He said: “There’s no need to change it drastically. I was part of a three-man coaching team here. If I felt things were fundamentally wrong, I would have said it at the time.

“You do offer an opinion, but I couldn’t be the man who keeps quiet, a manager loses his job and then comes in and changes everything.

“If I felt it needed to be done, I would say it and do it. That suggests I felt a large proportion of what needed doing was right. We all have our own spin on things and see things just slightly different – an early sub, a change of formation – I didn’t want to do exactly the same, but be true to myself and be true to the other lads who aren’t here now.’’

Three wins, three clean sheets. Pools are 11th in the National League table. When Singh sacked Mark Cooper at Darlington in October 2010, he installed Craig Liddle as caretaker boss. He won his first three games in charge and Quakers were 11th in the National League table.

Liddle got the job, then aged 39, permanently. Sweeney is only three years younger.

There is a growing confidence in his ability to do the job, that is natural after such a solid opening.

But is it too much, too soon, to ask him and Ian McGuckin to take it on permanently?

What Sweeney has done is given the club the chance to take their time with the appointment, allowing the chairman and chief executive time to breathe rather than rush into putting someone in place.

Sweeney knows the club inside out, likewise McGuckin. The pair are enjoying their tenure, Sweeney is talking like a manager, he’s acting like one in the dug out too.

Not afraid to make big calls – putting Gime Toure on the bench on Saturday being one – and he is constantly encouraging and cajoling his players from the sidelines.

“I enjoyed this one, we send scouts to watch games and we read the reports and we try and put it into practice, but sometimes it doesn’t work,’’ he said.

“Barnet have played 3-5-2 for the majority of the season, here they go 4-3-3. We prepared the players for both formations because we felt that they might change. When it works it gives you a sense of satisfaction as it shows you are going about things the right way.

“You take pride from that, not just me, but Ged McNamee and Higgy were the same. You set up a team to nullify the opposition and then allow us to create.

“If it doesn’t happen, it’s not for a lack of hard work or not analysing, it’s football and sometimes it works.

“I hope the players get a sense now that things are in the right direction and we have the ability to execute game plans.’’

Barnet were neat and tidy on the ball and looked good in possession, they offered lots of movement and options but had little end product. It was the sort of display Pools have given on too many occasions.

The opposition were, it’s fair to say, all fur coat on no knickers. And this was a day for fur coats, hats, gloves and scarves as the North-East autumn bit.

They were reduced to ten men when the petulant Jack Taylor was sent-off. He lunged into Ryan Donaldson to be booked, then later did the same to Peter Kioso. In between the cards he went down holding his face trying to convince the referee to take action against Pools. When nothing was forthcoming he was up and soon caught up with play.

The visitors had Scott Loach in goal and he was the busier of the two keepers. Loach and Ben Killip embraced at the end, as the former Pools keeper was given resounding applause.

He was twice beaten, first by Nicke Kabamba’s close-range low finish, then by the striker’s curling first-time shot.

Loach saved with an outstretched leg to deny Kabamba a hat-trick when he was in one-on-one, and he pawed one away from Gime Toure too.

Killip enjoyed a third successive shut-out. The last time Pools kept three clean sheets in a row was in March 2016.

Sweeney added: “The players have to believe they can progress and go on a run - don’t settle for three, make it four, five, six and see where it takes you. I’ve looked at the table and see where we are, but then spoke to the chairman and he said we are only nine points off the top!

“The chairman was happy and we had a brief chat. He wanted to congratulate us which shows he appreciates what we have done. We want a winning mentality and that breeds confidence.

“Three wins and I’m pleased and I know it can soon bite you – don’t get too high with the highs and don’t get too low with the lows. I’m not naïve enough to think it’s plain sailing.’’