SHEFFIELD United and Ched Evans proved Pools winners this afternoon.
Hartlepool manager Neale Cooper commented before this afternoon’s match that Danny Wilson is someone he’d gladly invite around his house for a drink.
But Wilson, whose Sheffield United side travelled north hoping to regain second place following Sheffield Wednesday’s victory over Preston North End in the televised lunchtime fixture, was acutely aware that his opposite number’s hospitality did not extend to three precious League One points.
Describing the Victoria Park as “loud, intimidating and loyal,” Wilson, who spent nearly three years in charge here earlier in his career, acknowledged anything the visitors earned would have to be done the hard way.
Neill Collins demonstrated he was in the mood to roll-up his sleeves and scrap by dumping Noble on the seat of his pants as both sides wrestled for control while McDonald, better known for his industry rather than endeavour, also threw himself into an early challenge.
But Hartlepool had done their homework too and did not allow United to settle.
Hartlepool made by far the brighter start with Horwood in particular impressing against his former employers.
This contest pitted together two good footballing sides whose players are encouraged to express themselves when in possession.
But it was a lumping free-kick from Hartlepool which forged the game’s first real chance of note when Hill was forced to deflect Noble’s first volley behind for an eighth minute corner which was cleared by Maguire.
Then, two minutes later, Williamson had to prod the ball off the toe of Horwood’s boot at he primed to shoot.
Evans blazed over after ghosting across the penalty area and Neill Collins escaped a caution for impeding Noble as the on-loan youngster attempted to launch a counter-attack.
He later saw an effort scrambled clear only yards from goal.
With Hartlepool pressing high upfield, for once United struggled to establish any supremacy in midfield.
Cresswell had spent most of the afternoon so far dashing back to make important tackles but, with 11 minutes of the half remaining, dinked the ball just wide after beating Flinders to the punch.
Neill Collins and Monkhouse were both booked just before the whistle with the latter clearly no great friend of Williamson.
Hartlepool, having shaded what had been a ‘slow burn’ of a first-half, came bursting out of the traps in the second with Neill Collins required to make a strong challenge on Sweeney.
Hartley followed Monkhouse and the United central defender into Boyeson’s notebook and, from the resulting free-kick in the 51st, Maguire claimed to have been held in the box as he jostled for Williamson’s delivery but the referee was unmoved.
Then, as the game started to open-up, Austin flung himself in front of Quinn’s shot to prevent the Irishman from giving United the lead. Evans drilled a powerful strike wide after Maguire, Quinn and Williamson had worked United into an encouraging position. Then, the tireless Cresswell was only inches away from touching home Williamson’s centre.
EVANS was overcome with joy in the 77th minute when he converted his 31st goal of the season from the penalty spot in front of United’s fans having been hauled down by Sam Collins despite having his back to goal.
With five minutes remaining Hartley collected his second caution in comical fashion and Hartlepool were reduced to 10 men. Incensed by Boyeson’s decision to award O’Halloran a free-kick, he slammed the ball into the turf and was dismissed due to his dissent.
Sweeney wasted a wonderful chance to level in the 92nd minute though; blazing wide from Austin’s long throw.