Hartlepool United-Plymouth: Crystal Palace midfielder eyes another top League Two scalp

Jake Gray tries to escape the clutches of Salfod's ex-Pools midfielder James Poole. Picture by FRANK REIDJake Gray tries to escape the clutches of Salfod's ex-Pools midfielder James Poole. Picture by FRANK REID
Jake Gray tries to escape the clutches of Salfod's ex-Pools midfielder James Poole. Picture by FRANK REID
It is a cliche trotted out by managers, players and pundits.

But never has the phrase ‘there is no easy game in this league’ so apt.

To say Hartlepool United have been involved in a daunting sequence of games would be one of the great understatements.

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The visit of Leyton Orient to Victoria Park last month kicked of a run of fixtures against SIX of League Two’s top seven.

Not even the FA Cup matches against Salford City provided any respite – those ties had enormous pressure riding on them.

Pools, thankfully and fortuitously, avoided the banana skin on TV and can look forward to a big occasion on Saturday, January 9 when Premier League-bound Derby County come to town.

But that is in the future – for now it is ANOTHER difficult League Two assignment as Plymouth Argyle arrive at the Vic tomorrow.

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Of course, the tough run began in spectacular fashion, Pools sending Leyton Orient packing – to a fancy hotel – with a 3-1 win in front of the Sky Sports cameras.

Hero of the hour was teenage midfielder Jake Gray.

He had shown some nice touches on his debut the prevous weeked against Cheltenham Town – another FA Cup roller-coaster.

But against the O’s, the 19-year-old turned it on with two goals in the last 20 minutes.

It was just the start Pools were dreaming of in that list of big games.

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But since then Pools have lost the next three to Mansfield (3-1), Oxford United (1-0) and Portsmouth (4-0), with the Accrington awayday washed out.

Gray, though, hopes – and believes – that another win is coming.

“It has been a difficult period for us,” the attacking midfielder told SportMail.

“We’ve played a lot of the top teams and the games have been quite even I feel.

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“We’ve been in all the games, but it’s unfortunate we see to be on the wrong end of the result.

“It’s hard to put our fingers on why not – we’re working hard in training and we have good players.

“I think probably confidence has something to do with it – it’s been knocked a bit.

“Plymouth are another big club who are right up at the top.

“But they are not on that great a run at this present moment and hopefully we can take advantage of it.

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“We are at home and with the crowd behind us I think we can do it.

“We played very well against Oxford in our last home game, without getting the result, and Leyton Orient the one before that when we did.

“It shows we can do it, but we have to do it on a more consistent basis.

“I think we can beat any team on our day.

“Even in the run of games where we have lost, I don’t think you can say we’ve been completely outplayed.

“We can compete and win and I think we are due a result.”

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Gray is happy to have Kal Naismith set to return tomorrow against the Pilgrims – and not just because the pair sgare a flat on the Marina.

The Scot, on loan from Portsmouth, has missed the last three matches after being cup-tied and unable to play against home club Pompey.

“It’s good to have Kal back,” said his pal.

“He was playing well til he had that break.

“He has great quality in that left foot and can make brilliant deliveries.”

Naismith and Gray were catalysts to that win over Leyton Orient and Pools boss Ronnie Moore will hope for some more magic tomorrow.