SHEFFIELD United will enter the New Year perfectly poised to challenge for automatic promotion after easing past Hartlepool today.Danny Wilson’s side head to Carlisle on Monday second in the League One table courtesy of this emphatic win over opponents who, despite proving remarkably strong on their travels since August, never looked like inflicting a shock defeat on the South Yorkshire club.Goals from Ryan Flynn, Chris Porter and Ched Evans saw United establish an unassailable lead at the break. United produced arguably their finest performance of the season so far.
Indeed, with all three strikes being created in sumptuous fashion, the only disappointment was that they failed to rack-up a cricket score during the second-half.
Evans, who took his tally for the season to 14, was simply superb.
Dovetailing perfectly with Porter and his fellow forwards, his combination of industry and invention was too hot for Hartlepool to handle although Peter Hartley did grab a 90th minute consolation after a well-worked short-corner routine.
As expected, Lee Williamson and Porter started this match in place of the suspended duo Stephen Quinn and Richard Cresswell. Flynn, who had impressed during United’s previous outing against Notts County, was also named in Danny Wilson’s first-choice 11 while James Beattie again had to be content with a place on the bench. Former United defender Evan Horwood featured for the visitors.
United, who later lost Lowton to injury, entered their final game of 2011 in blistering form and immediately grabbed this one by the throat.
The confidence which had seen them win all of their seven previous games was quickly in evidence as Wilson’s charges laid siege to the visitors’ goal.
Two quick-fire corners - the first coming after a lovely interchange involving Maguire and Evans - was quickly followed by a third and although an offside flag halted the Wales international’s progress when he attempted to pounce on a loose ball, Hartlepool’s defending was far from assured during the early exchanges.
Nevertheless, having established a reputation as ‘away specialists’ in League One this term, Cooper’s charges are nothing if not durable.
Jean-Francois was forced to hack away a long throw at the second attempt in the fifth minute before a slip by Flinders gave Evans a glimpse.
The former Barnsley shot-stopper redeemed himself by racing off his line to head away after a poor clearance had bounced off the United striker.
In the 11th minute, all of the hosts’ good work came to fruition though.
Porter, starting in place of the suspended Cresswell, set the move in motion and when Evans’ was denied by Hartley’s perfectly executed tackle, the danger appeared to have passed.
FLYNN, however, had other ideas and drilled a beautiful low drive into the bottom right hand corner of Flinders’ net for his second goal in as many outings.
Hartlepool responded by applying their first serious spell of pressure with Monkhouse and Humphreys both looking to burrow their way towards Simonsen.
Hartlepool boss Neale Cooper, known as ‘Godzilla’ during his own playing days, has promised to adopt a more steely approach after returning to Victoria Park and Hartley took him at face value in the 18th minute with a cynical foul on Evans.
Referee Sutton had no option but to produce the afternoon’s first yellow card.
Evans came within a whisker of breaking through again after Flynn, embellishing his growing reputation with another fine display, seized possession with a robust tackle in centre field.
Adopting a classic away formation, Hartlepool were content to concede territory before the break.
But, with United passing the ball quickly and with precision, it was a dangerous ploy and so no one was surprised to see Wilson’s troops double their lead in the 34th minute.
Sutton scribbled Baldwin’s name in his notebook following a 30th minute foul on McDonald.
It was a harsh decision but nowhere near as harsh as his assistant’s call to adjudge PORTER offside seconds later.
No matter as he soon applied the finishing touches to a simply superb move involving Doyle, Evans and Flynn with a diving header from close range.
Lowton’s blushes were speared when his clipped clearance bounced back off Simonsen’s bar just before the break but there was still time for him to set-up EVANS for United’s third in the 43rd minute.
Half-time: United 3 Hartlepool 0
Hartlepool, who introduced Brown and Boyd at the start of the second-half, saw Horwood go close with a curling free-kick but were soon under the cosh again.
Porter scooped over from point blank range after combining with Evans and Flynn drew a good save from Flinders.
The Hartlepool goalkeeper was well beaten when Evans shrugged-off Liddle but Williamson could not poke home his low centre.
Flinders excelled himself again to deny the former Manchester City marksman as the final whistle beckoned.
Predictably, Beattie’s entrance was greeted with a huge roar from three sides of Bramall Lane but, try and he might, he could not claim the goal that he and half of the Steel City craved.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Simonsen, Lowton (Ertl 55), N Collins, Maguire, Jean-Francois, Doyle, McDonald (Montgomery 81), Flynn, Williamson, Porter (Beattie 80), Evans. Not used: Philliskirk, Long.
HARTLEPOOL UNITED: Flinders, Austin, Humphreys, Liddle, S Collins (James 67), Horwood, Monkhouse, Sweeney, Baldwin (Brown 46), Murray (Boyd 46), Hartley. Not used: Rafferty, Solano.
REFEREE: Gary Sutton (Lincs).
As expected, Lee Williamson and Chris Porter started this match in place of the suspended duo Stephen Quinn and Richard Cresswell. Ryan Flynn, who had impressed during United’s previous outing against Notts County, was also named in Danny Wilson’s first-choice 11 while James Beattie again had to be content with a place on the bench. Former United defender Evan Horwood featured for the visitors.