TUESDAY night at Hartlepool.
Victoria Park under floodlights. Football in the raw.
Sheffield United might harbour ambitions of locking horns with their namesakes from Manchester and Newcastle rather than County Durham. But, as Danny Wilson reminded yesterday, these are the type of challenges which must be overcome if those dreams are ever to be realised.
“This is as tough a place to go as anywhere,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where they are in the division or what their results have been like.
“You always know that when you head up there you’re in for a game. The supporters are right on top of you and they can be a very hostile crowd.
“It’s not an easy environment. It’s not easy at all.”
At first glance, Wilson’s warning appears designed to prevent complacency seeping through the United ranks. Hartlepool, admonished by manager Neale Cooper following Saturday’s defeat at Colchester, are 23rd in the League One table having won only once on home soil this term.
A closer inspection of the facts and figures surrounding United’s latest contest, however, confirms there is substance to his words.
High-flying Swindon were forced to settle for a draw when they travelled to the North-East two months ago while in Steve Howard, a summer signing from Leicester City, Cooper possesses a striker capable of wreaking havoc among opposition defences.
“Steve’s had a terrific career,” Wilson, who led Hartlepool to promotion in 2007, said.
“He might not be as mobile as he once was but he’s still a massive threat.
“Antony Sweeney was there when I was in charge and he’s a terrific professional with bags of energy too. So we’ll under-estimate them at our peril.”
United can also call upon a talisman of their own following Dave Kitson’s decision to pen a short-term contract at Bramall Lane.
The 32-year-old was on target during last weekend’s draw with Notts County which saw Wilson’s team produce their finest performance of the embryonic campaign.
“Dave’s contribution was excellent with regards to his link-up play, hold-up play and the way he took his goal,” Wilson continued. “And he’ll get better and better the more he’s involved.
“It’s also great to hear that he was quick to praise Nick (Blackman) afterwards too because that tells you a lot about his work behind the scenes.
“There are very few lads who have come here and not fitted in well straight away. But the first thing they’ve got to do is earn the respect of their peers and clearly Dave has done that.”
Kitson described fellow marksman Blackman as looking “like the real deal” following an absorbing encounter with the visitors from Meadow Lane.
Blackman, previously of Macclesfield Town and Blackburn Rovers, remains United’s leading goalscorer despite being thwarted on numerous occasions by County’s Bartosz Bialkowski.
“Nick, like anyone in his position, is going to endure the odd bit of frustration,” Wilson said. “Times when you come up against a ‘keeper in inspired form.
“But he’s a real talent. Overall he had a great game.
“If he gets the same chances at Hartlepool as he did against Notts County then I know he’ll put them away.”
United are eighth but unbeaten in the competition this term and Wilson added: “It’s not been a perfect run but we aren’t losing either.”
Teams and ref
Hartlepool (possible): Flinders, Austin, Collins, Horwood, Baldwin, Hartley, Franks, Sweeney, Poole, Monkhouse, Howard.
United (possible): Howard, Hill, Maguire, Collins, McMahon, Flynn, McDonald, Doyle, Gallagher, Blackman, Kitson.
Mark heywood (Cheshire): Will be making his first visit to Victoria Park since sending-off Hartlepool goalkeeper Scott Flinders after only eight minutes of last year’s home defeat by Stevenage. Took charge of Sheffield United’s home draw with Tranmere Rovers in March..