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17:02 26th December 2010


A superb performance from visiting goalkeeper Jake Kean ensured that Leon McSweeney's goal was enough to render Town's Boxing Day pointless on a chilly December afternoon.

McSweeney's goal just before half-time didn't reflect Town's dominance in performance, but Lee Clark's side could not find a way past the tall custodian.

Town started the game on the front foot but top scorer Jordan Rhodes couldn't find strike partner Joe Garner with a low pass inside the fourth minute that would have put the loan man in on goal after turning defender Gary Liddle beautifully.

Gary Roberts was tripped by a defender 25 yards from goal barely a minute later, but the usually deadly Graham Carey curled a powerful free-kick over the bar.

Hartlepool, managed by former Town boss Mick Wadsworth, hardly touched the ball in the opening stages as Lee Clark's side probed for an opening. Playing a 4-5-1 formation, striker James Brown was often totally isolated inside the home half.

Pilkington and Roberts delivered several testing crosses into the visitors' penalty box early on but Hartlepool, led by another former Town man in Sam Collins, made several good clearances.

However, Town's patience almost paid off in the 15th minute when the right-sided duo of Pilkington and Arfield worked a good chance. The winger laid the ball off to the Scotsman before continuing his run into the box and being picked out with a low pass, but after turning a defender inside the area his low near post shot was blocked by the legs of 'keeper Jake Kean at close range.

Pools' first shot at goal came in the 17th minute after Brown was tripped by Peter Clarke, but left back Evan Horwood sent his free kick wide and over. However, a rare mistake by the Town Captain moments later gifted possession to Brown and his low shot forced Smithies into a low save.

Town were back on the attack soon afterwards, with Garner picking out Roberts on the left after a mazy dribble; the winger played a low cross into the area without taking a touch, but top scorer Rhodes could only flick the ball wide of the far post.

BOOKING - Hartlepool winger Andy Monkhouse was shown the first yellow card of the game in the 23rd minute for a late challenge on Anthony Pilkington down by the right touchline.

Roberts left Collins for dead inside the area three minutes later after collecting a deep cross from Arfield, but once again the goalkeeper was quickly off his line to block the shot at his near post.

At the other end, Andy Monkhouse screwed an attempted long range volley well wide of goal after another set piece was delivered into the area.

Town launched an attack with a set piece of their own in the 29th minute, with Carey picking out the tall figure of McCombe inside the penalty area; he headed the ball to the far post for Jordan Rhodes to strike, but his powerful first time volley was well blocked by Antony Sweeney.

Smithies was then forced to tip Leon McSweeney's impressive 30-yard volley around his own near post after he intercepted a poor pass out of the Town defence.

Pilkington's powerful strike at goal was blocked well by right-back Austin with nine minutes of the half remaining before Roberts had a side-footed effort blocked by another defender after good work from Rhodes down the right.

Garner and Rhodes came very close to converting a quality Carey corner in the 39th minute but somehow the ball evaded their respective paths.

BOOKING - Hartlepool midfielder Paul Murray was booked in the 42nd minute for a poor challenge on Scott Arfield as he advanced into the opposition half.

GOAL - Against the run of the entire half, Hartlepool took the lead a minute later through Leon McSweeney. Monkhouse and left back Horwood broke away down the left flank, with a quick one-two setting the latter away; he delivered a good low cross into the box for McSweeney to run in and place past the helpless Smithies from close range.

The last act of the first half saw Rhodes head a tame effort at Keen.


The visitors started the second half brightly, but Joe Garner almost found a way through on goal from a Roberts cross - only for Liddle to get a vital touch on the ball at the last moment.

SUB - Lee Clark made his first change in the 55th minute, with Benik Afobe replacing Joe Garner in attack.

With Hartlepool getting their entire team behind the ball, it had become increasingly difficult to get behind the visiting side. A swift break forward from Carey almost saw new boy Afobe do just that, but Sam Collins did very well again to stick a leg out and divert the ball behind for a corner.

SUB - Wadsworth made his first substitution in the 60th minute, with Colin Larkin replacing Brown in attack.

Pilkington's 65th minute cross come shot was heroically blocked by the head of defender Liddle once more before Rhodes turned the eventual corner over the crossbar with his right boot.

SUB - Lee Novak was introduced to the game in the 69th minute - he replaced Joey Gudjonsson. This meant the Terriers switched to three at the back, with Arfield operating in central midfield and Novak up front alongside Rhodes and Afobe.

SUB - Hartlepool made their second change soon after, with one-time Town trialist Steve Haslam replacing Paul Murray.

Haslam was soon trying his luck at goal, striking a powerful effort at the Town goal after a corner; however, Smithies was equal to it and turned the ball away to safety.

Novak then latched onto a knock-down from Rhodes, but his shot was blocked again by the keeper. From the resulting corner, three Town players went for the same Carey delivery and Kay could only head wide at the back post.

The Town attacks continued and Kean had to scoop a near-post shot from Roberts to safety before he punched away a vicious cross from Roberts. The young Blackburn loanee was having a good game.

McCombe headed a floating Arfield cross over the bar with ten minutes left before a quick free-kick from Roberts found Afobe free inside the area - only for Kean to rush from his line and block yet another attempt at goal.

SUB - Hartlepool made their final change in the 83rd minute, with goalscorer McSweeney replaced by the massive Armann Bjornsson.

On the break, Hartlepool substitute Bjornsson was guilty of an astonishing miss - spurning an opportunity from around one yard out at the back post after great work from Sweeney down the right.

Kean pulled off another great save in the 87th minute after a near post corner from Carey; Arfield leathered a shot towards goal that the goalie did very well to gather in with a crowd of players around him.

Moments later the Blackburn custodian pulled off another flying save to deny Gary Roberts what looked like a certain goal from his 20 yards curler.

SUB - Town made a final throw of the dice in added time, replacing Carey with Alan Lee.


Town's Team (4-4-2):

Alex Smithies; Graham Carey, Peter Clarke (c), Jamie McCombe, Scott Arfield; Gary Roberts, Antony Kay, Joey Gudjonsson (Lee Novak 69), Anthony Pilkington; Joe Garner (Benik Afobe 55), Jordan Rhodes

Unused Subs: Ian Bennett, Nathan Clarke, Tom Clarke, Alan Lee, Chris Atkinson

Hartlepool Bookings: Andy Monkhouse (23), Paul Murray (42)

Gate: 14,813

Away: 474

    Data provided by Press Association


    Town was the first club to win three successive league titles in 1926. Only Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United have matched this feat.