Hartlepool Utd 4 Bristol Rovers 0: Super Pools step on the Gas

Marlon Harewood celebrates scoring for Hartlepool against Bristol Rovers. Picture by Frank Reid
Marlon Harewood celebrates scoring for Hartlepool against Bristol Rovers. Picture by Frank Reid
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HARTLEPOOL United moved to within three points of the play-offs after a stunning 4-0 home win over Bristol Rovers in Sky Bet League Two.

Goals from Marlon Harewood and a stunning strike from teenager Brad Walker had given Colin Cooper’s Pools side a 2-0 half-time lead at Victoria Park.

Pools scored after just 58 seconds through Harewood’s header before Walker stepped up from 25-yards with a fine, curling effort to make it two.

But it got better after the break for Pools, who remain 10th in League Two but move to within three points of the top seven.

A Simon Walton penalty in the 56th minute made it three after Harewood was wiped out before substitute Jonathan Franks made it four with minutes to go.

Experienced striker Harewood, 34, had returned to the starting line-up in place of forward Franks, who had started in Tuesday night’s goalless draw at Accrington Stanley.

Manager Cooper kept faith with the same back-four and midfield though that played at Accrington, with on-loan Manchester United forward Jack Barmby again given the chance to shine behind the front two of Harewood and Luke James.

Pools started the day in 10th place, five points off the play-off places, while opponents Bristol Rovers - who have former Pools midfielder Darrell Clarke as their assistant manager - 16th in the league.

It was a breathless start to the match, with Pools - kicking towards the Town End - showing their intent from the off.

Walker burst through the middle and released James down the left-hand flank who showed great strength to hold off Tom Parkes before chipping the ball back towards Walker.

The 17-year-old couldn’t connect properly with the header but it flicked to Jordan Richards who won a corner.

Barmby stepped up to whip the ball towards James who flicked it on from the six-yard line, with Harewood on hand to head home from one yard with just 58 seconds on the clock.

It was almost two four minutes later but Walker’s fierce 20-yard low strike was well pushed away by Steve Mildenhall in the Bristol goal.

Winger Andy Monkhouse then had to be withdrawn with a hamstring problem, being replaced by Jack Compton.

Fifteen minutes in and it was 2-0.

Walker, only 17, took a touch from a Barmby pass 25-yards out before curling an unstoppable shot into the bottom corner past the hapless Mildenhall.

Cooper’s side were well worthy of the 2-0 lead, with Walker in particular getting loads of space in the centre of the pitch.

It took Bristol time to settle after the early blow of going two down, with dangerman John-Joe O’Toole starting to get on the ball more.

In the 25th minute he played in Matt Harrold inside the penalty area but captain Sam Collins was alert to block the shot for a corner, the resulting set piece headed wide by Parkes.

Walker again tested Mildenhall from 25-yards after a lay-off from Harewood but his rasping shot was tipped over the bar by the keeper.

Collins was called on again in the 36th minute to throw his back in the way of a goal-bound O’Toole strike from 16-yards, to deflect the ball away for a corner.

Bristol - with nothing to lose - threw off their shackles and pushed forward in a bid to get back into the game but Pools held firm.

Cooper’s side were patient in their build-up play, with the midfield four seeing a lot of the ball.

O’Toole tested Scott Flinders- making his 200th league appearance for Pools this afternoon - with a 25-yard strike five minutes before the half-time break but the Pools stopper was more than equal to it.

David Clarkson fired high and wide over the bar seconds before referee Seb Stockbridge blew the whistle for the half-time beak.

HALF TIME: Pools 2 Bristol Rovers 0

It was a scrappy start to the second-half, with Pools looking to maintain their 2-0 lead at Victoria Park.

They went one better though in the 56th minute, when Compton played in Harewood inside the penalty area but he was bundled over by Mark McChrystal for a definite penalty.

Walton had to wrestle the ball off Harewood before cooling slotting it into the bottom right-hand corner to make it 3-0.

Bristol Rovers boss John Ward made a double substitution in an attempt to get his side back into the match - with David Clarkson and Seanan Clucas going off in place of Chris Beardsley and Alefe Santos.

Flinders had to be alert on the hour mark to get down low and save Beardsley’s header from the back post who had gotten above Jordan Richards.

The ball spilt to Harrold but committed Collins again threw himself in front of the ball to block the shot and maintain the clean-sheet.

Cooper than made his second substitution of the afternoon with Jonathan Franks replacing Harewood in the 63rd minute.

Barmby then fired a speculative strike from 40-yards out and it just dipped over the crossbar of Mildenhall.

Walker was then subbed for youngster Lewis Hawkins with just over 10 minutes of the match left to play, with the Pools supporters giving the teenager a rousing round of applause.

Sub Franks then drove at the Bristol goal but his 20-yard strike just flashed wide of the left-hand post as Pools looked to extend their lead.

Bristol had their best chance of the game in the 84th minute - Beardsley with a fierce shot from the edge of the area rattling off Flinder’s crossbar with the Pools stopper stranded.

The ball bounced back into play but Flinders managed to collect the follow-up effort.

Pools rounded off their afternoon nicely in the 89th minute, after Franks fired the ball high into the net inside the penalty area after great, tireless work, down the left-flank from James.

It was a composed finish from the substitute and Pools were fully deserving of the 4-0 win.

FULL TIME: Pools 4 Bristol Rovers 0

Pools (4-4-2): Flinders, Richards, Collins (C), Burgess, Holden, Walton, Walker (Hawkins, 79), Monkhouse (Compton, 15), Barmby, James, Harewood (Franks, 63).

Subs Not Used: Rafferty (gk), Rowbotham, Sweeney, Poole.

Bristol Rovers (4-2-3-1): Mildenhall, Smith, Woodards (Clarke, 76), Parkes, Clarkson (Santos, 57), Harrold, Brown, Clucas (Beardsley, 57), McChrystal, O’Toole, Mohamed.

Subs Not Used: Gough (gk) Gillespie, Harrison, Clarke, Lockyer.

Booking: Parkes.

Referee: Seb Stockbridge (Tyne & Wear)

Attendance: 3,480 (239 Bristol)