Sheffield Utd 2 Hartlepool Utd 3: Pools stun Blades

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FINALLY.

After 23 matches and nearly four months of football, Hartlepool United have celebrated victory.

And Pools, 3-2 victors at league leaders Sheffield United, were good value for their triumph, a first in seven attempts for new boss John Hughes.

On a bog of a pitch, it was Pools who coped better throughout and duly emerged with maximum points thanks to a Steve Howard double and a first goal of the season for Ritchie Humphreys.

Danny Wilson’s men did cancel out Howard’s early opener before half-time but the second period belonged to Pools, Humphreys restoring the advantage and Howard heading another 18 minutes from time before Harry Maguire snatched a consolation with virtually the last kick of the game.

It means Pools are now 11 points from safety heading into 2013.

They had their lead on five minutes, Evan Horwood digging out a left-wing cross for Howard to steal between two Blades defenders and power home a close-range header.

Howard found himself in on goal soon after but snatched at a left-footed effort and his shot looped harmlessly over the crossbar.

It wasn’t until shortly before the half-hour mark that Nick Blackman, driving infield from the left, drew a save from Scott Flinders as his low blast was forearmed to safety by the visiting keeper.

But Flinders was suspect for the goal which drew parity on 31 minutes, Michael Doyle seeing his long-range smash find its way through the weak grasp of the Pools stopper and over the line.

The Blades went in search of a second before the break and burly centre-back Maguire managed to pirouette his way between two Pools shirts before slamming narrowly over from the edge of the area.

They did have the ball in the back of the net five minutes after the break but an offside flag denied Ryan Flynn.

In the aftermath of that disallowed goal Pools pair Sam Collins and Tony Sweeney went eyeball-to-eyeball and had to be pulled apart by team-mates.

But within minutes they were ahead, Horwood pulling back for Humphreys to prod into the bottom corner from six yards.

With the condition of the pitch continuing to deteriorate, the home side struggled to threaten and the Bramall Lane crowd soon grew anxious.

John Cofie volleyed straight down the throat of Flinders on 65 minutes and that was his last involvement, the striker’s withdrawal drawing cheers from some sections of the home support.

But they were soon groaning when Howard headed his second and Pools’ third, steering over George Long after James Poole had attacked the by-line and lifted to the edge of the six-yard area.

Maguire did hammer home in the fifth minute of stoppage time but it was too little too little for the below-par Yorkshiremen.