United win away again
United's superb away form continues with a hard-three points at Hartlepool this afternoon. An early goal from winger Ryan Williams, a cool finish by Deane Smalley and a late penalty from Asa Hall kept United at the heart of the promotion-chasing pack despite Luke James's second-half goal for the home side.
It took the U’s just five minutes to open the scoring. It came from a long throw on the right by David Hunt which reached Johnny Mullins who flicked on for centre-half partner Michael Raynes. The defender turned one way then the other before smuggling the ball to the right side of the area where Williams latched on to the ball and curled a superb low left-footed effort across keeper Scott Flinders and into the far corner of the net.
For a home side that has struggled to score goals this season it was a terrible start but Simon Walton whistled a shot just wide on nine minutes and they played some nice stuff in front of the United defence in the opening 20 minutes without ever troubling Ryan Clarke.
United meanwhile now had the ideal game situation to utilise the pace they had on the counter attack. Williams and Rigg ran at their full backs, Alfie Potter dropped into space behind the hard-working Deane Smalley and with Asa Hall and the excellent Danny Rose dominating the midfield it was an excellent start.
Potter was denied by a smothering challenge on 28 and a save by Flinders on 29 but United looked comfortable at 1-0 at the break and the home fans were distinctly unimpressed by their side’s first-half efforts. They knew that Manager Colin Cooper would have strong words with his players and whatever it was that the former Boro defender said worked wonders immediately. Most times United would have cleared a 48th-minute ball into their box but it bobbled and bounced and eventually striker Luke James swivelled and buried a well-struck shot past the helpless Clarke to make it 1-1.
With their fans now right behind them the Pool were unrecognisable and it took some excellent defending from Hunt, Raynes, Mullins and Newey to hold them at bay. However, committing men forward meant that United now had the space to work in up front and on 68 they were back in front.
Flowing forward into the spaces Rigg worked the ball forward for Potter inside the area on the left. He drew a defender then checked inside and on to his right foot. Hartlepool thought a shot was coming but instead Potter rolled the ball for Smalley by the penalty spot. He stopped the ball, picked his spot and then calmly slotted the ball into the bottom-right corner for his fourth of the season. Nonchalantly taken to establish himself as top scorer so far.
A stabbed effort from James was saved by the legs of Clarke, but in truth Pool never regained the momentum of their good spell at the start of the half. Over the 90 minutes they can have few arguments about the result. In the last minute more pressure from the excellent Potter led to a weak back pass which sub Scott Davies raced on to. He rounded Flinders who tripped him, with Hall on the spot to slam home the penalty.
There was even time for home sub Steve Howard to get a red card for a challenge on Davies which he should have known better than to commit.
United remain unbeaten on the road this season then and move back into the automatic promotion places. That has been achieved through a remarkable team spirit, players prepared to give it their all and the ability to take chances at crucial moments. They now have two home games in a row in Sky Bet League 2. Book your places and roar them on.
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Darrell Fisher, Stats by OPTA
See highlights, reaction and an On the Road report in Yellow Player