Fernando Torres once questioned the worth of a career without medals.
Fame and flash cars are all well and good, the Spain centre-forward acknowledged, but if you fail to collect any silverware then what it the point?
Sheffield United and their namesakes from Hartlepool are unlikely to be crowned Champions of Europe anytime soon. But lifting the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, for the visitors at least, remains a realistic aim.
Which is why, despite this competition’s PR problems, their progress into the third round stage should be viewed in a positive light. Especially as last night’s contest at Victoria Park enabled the likes of Diego De Girolamo and Louis Reed to showcase their talents.
The youngsters, both graduates of United’s Redtooth Academy, made solid contributions with De Girolamo, starting a senior fixture for the first time, an enthusiastic presence along the flanks.
However it was Jose Baxter who appeared to have set Nigel Clough’s team on the path to a routine victory until Michael Duckworth’s deflected strike drew Hartlepool level.
Baxter, returning after a five match absence, was withdrawn at half-time as a precautionary measure ahead of this weekend’s League One fixture against Leyton Orient. But not before opening the scoring with clinical finish which underlines his importance to United’s promotion hopes. Another fine interchange, this time set in motion by substitute Marc McNulty, saw them secure a place in the next phase of the tournament when Jamal Campbell-Ryce claimed his second of the campaign.
Hartlepool, propping-up the rest of the Football League and without a manager following Colin Cooper’s resignation last weekend, could have been forgiven for entering the contest with their minds on other things.
Former Sheffield Wednesday manager Brian Laws is the latest name to express an interest in the vacant post while Graham Kavanagh, another Hillsborough old boy, has reportedly held talks with under-fire chairman Ken Hodcroft.
Sam Collins and Stephen Pears were tasked with preparing the team for this meeting with opponents nearly 40 places above them on the footballing pyramid.
Despite their employers’ perilous position in the League Two table, the duo were able to call upon experienced players such as Neil Austin and Tommy Miller while Michael Woods, previously of Leeds and Chelsea, started in midfield. After spending much of the opening period on the back foot, Hartlepool emerged a much more formidable proposition after the interval although Chris Porter spurned two opportunities to reassert United’s authority before Campbell-Ryce pounced.
The former Jamaica international tested Scott Flinders’ handling as United pieced together an incisive second minute move but it was Hartlepool who went closest to opening the scoring during the early exchanges, when Woods deposited a looping attempt on the roof of Iain Turner’s net following Miller’s intervention.
Although United predictably dominated in terms of territory and possession, Stephen McGinn nearly releasing Porter with a deft pass and Campbell-Ryce causing Lewis Hawkins problems along the flank, it was not until the 14th minute that they forged another opportunity of note. Again Campbell-Ryce was the instigator - his angled drive causing a skirmish in front of Flinders - but Hartlepool, albeit through a combination of mental fortitude and good fortune, managed to keep United at arms length.
Not so, however, four minutes later when Porter spun clear of his marker and spotted Reed’s run. The teenager’s first time shot wrong-footed Flinders but curled wide of the far post.
Baxter, though, made no mistake in the 30th minute with an impressive effort which saw him drift across the edge of Hartlepool’s penalty area, feint, and dispatch a low drive beyond the Hartlepool goalkeper and off the inside of the post.
It was a brief cameo which, despite the hosts’ endeavour, illustrated the gap in quality between the clubs.
Hartlepool demonstrated plenty of industry but not enough invention to properly test the makeshift pairing of Harrison McGahey and Chris Basham at the heart of United’s rearguard.
Inevitably, the lines of communication between the two were not always clear with Charlie Wyke left unmarked at a 28th minute corner before failing to connect with the ball while Ryan Brobbel, the on-loan Middlesbrough winger, had earlier seen a powerful shot deflected into Turner’s grasp.
But the United goalkeeper, making his first appearance since arriving on a free transfer two months ago, was powerless to keep out Duckworth’s 49th minute shot, which changed direction after ricocheting off McGahey.
De Girolamo, who despite his considerable talent is still learning to impose himself on a game, made way after suffering a heavy knock following Duckworth’s equaliser.
Porter saw a close-range shot scrambled off the line before steering substitute Murphy’s centre wide. De Girolamo’s replacement hit the woodwork but Campbell-Ryce picked his spot to perfection after racing onto McNulty’s slide rule pass with eight minutes remaining.
HARTLEPOOL UNITED: Flinders 6, Duckworth 6, Austin 6, Harrison 6, Jones 6, Miller 7, Woods 6, Green 6 (Walker 74), Hawkins 6 (Smith 86), Wyke 6, Brobbel 7. Not used: Holden, Franks, Richards.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Turner 6, Harris 6, Basham 6, Baxter 7 (McNulty 46, 7), McGinn 6, Davies 6, McGahey 6, Porter 6 (Collins 83), Campbell-Ryce 7, Reed 6, DeGirolamo 6 (Murphy 62, 6). Not used: Doyle, Willis.
REFEREE: Carl Boyeson (East Yorkshire), 6
GOALS: Baxter (30), Duckworth (49)
CAUTIONS: Harris (19), Hawkins (30), Campbell-Ryce (82).
RED CARDS: None