Hartlepool United 3, Walsall 1.

ON November 18 Ritchie Humphreys scored a goal which turned Hartlepool United's season around.

On Saturday, some 15 unbeaten games later, he smashed home a goal which could take their campaign to a whole new level.

When the left-back curled home his shot at Accrington Stanley, it clinched a win which started a run of results unparalleled in the club's history.

When he curled home his shot against Walsall on Saturday it sent Victoria Park into raptures and meant that, from being 18 points behind the leaders pre-Accrington, Pools were now just three points adrift of the summit.

Now it's not the play-offs or even promotion on the agenda, this result opens up the race for the League Two title.

The affect of picking up six points from games against top of the table rivals Walsall and Swindon in just seven days should not be underestimated.

Because as well as giving Pools a massive return, it also chips away at the belief and outlook of the opposition. It's heaped the pressure on Walsall, who have now taken five points from the last 15 available, compared to Pools 13.

Two points from the last two games would have been a solid return, four would have been welcomed. To get six is, to borrow a much-used and much-maligned phrase of late, magnificent.

In this mode, it won't be long before Danny Wilson's side hit top spot. And, after working so hard to get there it won't be something they will give up easily.

They have now taken 41 points from a possible 45 and are playing a style of football which is as entertaining and efficent as they come.

After falling behind in a game for the first time since trailing at Accrington, Pools hit back in some style, taking the game to the long-term leaders and dominating possession, as they inflicted on Walsall their heaviest defeat of the season.

Micky Nelson's header put Pools level and, with time running out, Andy Monkhouse won a free-kick 25 yards from goal.

Ben Clark, Antony Sweeney and Humphreys stood over it. Sweeney rolled it a couple of yards and Humphreys stepped up to curl it around the wall and beyond the dive of Clayton Ince.

The big keeper got two hands to the ball, but it had too much curl and power.

"The timing couldn't have been any better,'' admitted Humphreys. "I said to one of the lads afterwards that if I had scored that goal ten minutes into the second half it might not have meant the same.

"But I thought we were very controlled in the second half the way we went about our game. The only spell they had came after we made it 1-1.

"The timing of it in the last few minutes made it, the place erupted - and on a bit of a cold day it was a great way to finish and send everyone home happy.

"I think everyone is a bit different when they take free-kicks. I like the ball moved a yard or two just to change the angle, Gary Liddle likes to take it from where it is.

"It's a free-kick we've done a few times and it worked. Our dead balls on Saturday weren't all up to standard, some were good, some were bad and maybe that's down to the conditions and the wind.

"But when it mattered it came up.''

He added: "The reason to move the ball across was to get it around the wall and around the charger.

"I don't know if the keeper was unsighted, the lads who were running down to try and block it might have done that.

"I think he got a hand to it, but let's say there was too much power in it then!

"I think when you score it's difficult to remember everything, it all goes in a haze. It was one of those when you score and you don't know what's happening.

"I was off and away and did a dive on the floor, my shorts were up my, you know. It's one you watch later and think 'oh no'.''

It was Pools saying exactly that when, after three minutes they conceded at home for the first time since November 4.

Scott Dann threaded through a pass for Martin Butler and, with some appealing for offside, he confidently netted.

Walsall were well-drilled and tough to break down. And they had to be to keep Pools at bay.

Danny Wilson's side had all the possession, but had to wait until the 53rd minute to net.

Humphreys' corner, from a set-piece, following a previous corner erroneously conceded by former Pools defender Chris Westwood, found the head of Micky Nelson and the defender powered in his first of the season.

"We scored goals from set-pieces like we did at Swindon which is great,'' said Humphreys, who also created Andy Monkhouse's winner seven days earlier. "We probably hadn't been scoring enough from set-plays and it was good for Nelse to get his goal.

"I think he's needed one - bad celebration though! I actually said to Micky and Ben (Clark) before the game - I travel in with them - that he was due one and I actually said I was due one.

"Nelse is always a threat in there, whether he takes out their biggest because chances are he will look after him, he can always take people out of the way.''

From that goal, the draw was looking likely - Walsall were proving a danger on the break, but it was mainly one-way traffic.

But that was without Humphrey's intervention.

He added : "I spoke with Westy before the game because I thought he was going to be right-back, so we would have been directly up against each other - I told him not to think about getting too far forward.

"I saw him afterwards and all he could say was 'where did you get that left peg from?' but he knows all about it!"

There was still time for another, when David Foley nipped in ahead of Westwood on the edge of the area, fed Barker and rolled it across Ince into the corner.

A quick glance to the assistant and the flag stayed down, which meant a first home goal for the new signing.

Three sides of the ground erupted, but one end stood silent. For a game of this size, it's bewildering that Walsall only had 277 followers in the Rink End.

Perhaps most were stuck at home in the snow. Soon their team may be stuck in second place unable to dig their way out.