CHARACTER, spirit and quality are what’s needed to get struggling Hartlepool United out of trouble.
And they had that in abundance in the final 10 minutes on Saturday to deservedly seal a dramatic draw against Newport County.
Never has a 2-2 draw at home been celebrated so loudly by home fans. With 10 minutes left on the clock, Pools were 2-0 down and staring down the barrel of the gun.
As confident as Paul Murray and his squad were of getting something from the game, the long suffering fans on the terraces were not.
A pocket of supporters were chanting against owners IOR as they prepared themselves for another home defeat.
Yet, almost from nowhere, Pools fought back.
They showed tremendous character and spirit and two moments of pure quality from Brad Walker and Michael Duckworth secured a much-needed, morale-boosting point.
It actually felt like a win and in reality it should have been. Both Charlie Wyke and Scott Harrison had chances to snatch the three points.
Pools would have lost this match a few weeks ago.
Yet it seemed fitting that on Halloween weekend Pools came back from the dead after surviving an almighty scare to at least get a point after an exhausting afternoon at the Vic.
But arguably, it should never have reached that stage.
Play-off chasing Newport County were seventh going into the match yet looked a poor side and they were gifted a 2-0 lead – when will Pools stop handing opposition sides such an easy ride in matches?
Both of the goals conceded were totally avoidable.
Thankfully, for Murray & Co, his side showed the same grit and determination their manager did when he was playing and they didn’t let their heads drop.
The introduction of instant terrace favourite Sidney Schmeltz from the bench was a key factor in reviving Pools.
Pacy, direct and not afraid to shoot on sight, the new signing certainly looks the part and when he is fully fit he will be one of the first names on the team sheet.
Murray’s other signing, Nicky Featherstone, also impressed on his Pools debut.
The pair have signed short- term deals and while Schmeltz caught the eye, Featherstone kept things nice and simple and improved as the game wore on.
Murray has spoken of the need to bring in further players this week – including cover at centre half and new strikers.
They are certainly needed as Pools are short on quality and depth and Tommy Miller (calf) has joined Matthew Bates (calf) and Stuart Parnaby and Jack Compton (both knee) in the treatment room.
Ryan Brobbel’s loan deal has finished so Murray has scope to bring in fresh blood, both in the free agent and loan market.
Pools, without a sub keeper, lined up in a diamond formation and started brightly.
First, Jonathan Franks saw his well-struck shot palmed over the bar by County stopper Joe Day.
Charlie Wyke also went close, heading over the bar from just six yards out.
In between, Newport forced Scott Flinders into a point-blank save from a well-hit Aaron O’Connor volley.
Franks again tried his luck from the edge of the area in the 25th minute but he fired high over the bar.
The best move of the half came 10 minutes later, Wyke and Harewood linking up well before the latter volleyed wide from 12-yards out.
But the inevitable sucker punch came in the 38th minute, Franks playing an awful back pass from the half-way line which went straight to Chris Zebroski, who rounded Flinders before sliding the ball home to give Newport the lead at the break.
Newport then scored the simplest of goals to double their lead in the 57th minute.
A long punt forward wasn’t dealt with by a casual Sam Collins which allowed Aaron O’Connor a run at goal. He got the better of covering defender Scott Harrison before finishing well past Flinders.
Pools, at this stage, looked dead and buried.
Two down with little hope of getting back into the match. Murray’s side hadn’t played well and had gifted two goals to the away side.
Murray, who switched his side to a 4-4-2 formation, looked to his bench for inspiration.
It came in the shape of new signing Schmeltz, the pacy winger replacing Michael Woods for his debut.
Within seconds Schmeltz had blasted a shot inches wide of the left post and his arrival was just the spark the ground needed.
Pools were then handed a lifeline – Newport captain Andy Sandell booked twice within a minute to see the away side down to ten men.
His first came for a foul on Duckworth, then from the resulting free-kick he got a second yellow after a melee with Scott Harrison saw the pair grappling on the floor and having to be pulled apart by players from both sides.
Harrison was also booked.
Pools were pressing hard and their reward finally came.
Walker struck with a powerful rocket from the edge of the area past the hapless Day.
The Billingham teen forced Day into a similar save minutes later before salvation came from Duckworth in the 87th minute.
Duckworth, played in by Schmeltz, jinked his way into the box before finishing with aplomb.
The right-back – celebrating his half century of matches – then produced his now trademark acrobatic somersault.
Pools should have gone on to win the match, Wyke having an excellent chance but it wasn’t to be.
Credit must go to Pools for the dramatic comeback but this must prove to be a catalyst.
The momentum gained must be turned into vital and much-needed wins.
Pools (4-4-2): Flinders (C), Duckworth, Collins, Harrison, Austin, Featherstone, Walker, Woods (Schmeltz, 64), Franks, Harewood, Wyke.
Subs Not Used: Richards, Jones, Brobbel, Hawkins, Crooks, Smith.
Booked: Woods, Austin, Harrison.
Goal: Walker (80) Duckworth (87)
Newport (3-5-2): Day, Porter (Klukowski, 61), Jones, Yakubu, Minshull, O’Connor Loveridge (78), Zebroski, Sandell (C), Hughes, Flynn, Obeng.
Subs Not Used: Pidgeley, Feely, Tancock, Patten, Collins.
Goal: Zebroski (38) O’Connor (57).
Sent off: Sandell.
Referee: Mark Brown (Lancashire)
Attendance: 3,172 (Newport 98)