POOLIE IN NOTTINGHAM witnessed the defeat in Sheffield

Well before last season had ended, as always, I was thinking of the fixtures for the forthcoming season. We had secured another season in the third tier, and the other 'big' team from Sheffield were destined to join us.
Having been to watch Pools at Hillsborough more times than I care to remember, I eagerly anticipated crossing Bramall Lane off the list of grounds I had seen Pools play at. New Year's Eve was a good date for the game, even better when the kick-off was brought forward to 1pm.

The game took on an extra dimension of excitement when it was announced that Neale Cooper was returning to the managerial hotseat. Never in a million years would I have thought it possible, but hats off to Pools for making it happen. Although not officially back 'in charge', Cooper nonetheless would be there at the game, and the optimistic side of me expected a repeat of that amazing 4-3 victory at Peterborough in his first spell.

I picked up Mark, a fellow Nottingham-based Poolie, then we headed over to Derby to fetch Andy Ramalamadingdong. We had a catch up, with Andy and I impressed to hear of Mark's exploits with his new bewer, who it turns out is more than ten years his junior. Whilst Mark didn't go into too much detail, he left nowt to the imagination with the comment, "I'll tell you what though, me stomach muscles are knacking.""There was a good number of Poolies in attendance - 700 to 800 maybe, and it truly was magic to see that iconic baldy napper in the Pools dugout again."

The trusty sat-nav got us to the ground OK, but the problem was that there was nowhere to park legally. After circling all the terraced streets round and about, we finally ended up a fair distance away on a hill. I remember thinking that if we were to lose then the walk back up would be something of a pisser.

Usually when I go to a new ground, I invariably approach from the direction which is furthest from the away end, and a schlepp round the stadium is required. For once we were in the right place, but we did have to endure the "you have to buy the ticket from the office first" malarkey. The best result of the day was the price - only £20. I was expecting closer to £30, and I made mental note to spend the money saved on extra beer later on.

The turnstiles were operated by barcode reader, the same as at Leeds, MK Dons, and a few other places I can't remember. They are a good idea I suppose, what with not having to pay turnstile operators, but I can't imagine the chew at a big game such as the Sheffield derby if the technology failed. I had a Double Decker in my pocket, and I was tempted to wave that in front of the scanner to see what happened, but the close presence of several South Yorkshire Police folk made me think twice.

The ground itself is very tight and compact, high stands with a steep angle for the seats. We had been allocated the bottom tier of the stand behind one of the goals, which didn't have a bad view. There was a good number of Poolies in attendance - 700 to 800 maybe, and it truly was magic to see that iconic baldy napper in the Pools dugout again.

He certainly has his work cut out, and the game was over before half time. Three well-taken goals knocked the stuffing out of us. We did hit the bar when 2-0 down, but even if that had gone in I'm sure we still wouldn't have got anything from the match. Every time Sheffield advanced they looked likely to score, and thankfully the offside flag saved us on a few occasions. I was disappointed with the Blades fans I have to say, who were quiet throughout. If the boot were on the other foot I'm sure the Pools fans would have been heard half way to Doncaster. Half time came and went in a Bovril haze, and the second half Petered out (literally) with a well-taken Hartley goal in injury time.

Sheffield looked the part for promotion candidates, while we looked nothing like a team who had only lost two away games previously. One bright spot was the introduction of young Luke James, who was a breath of fresh air in a Pools team thick with the stench of under-confidence, apathy and lack of ideas. Jack Baldwin didn't do too badly either, despite being hooked at half time for James Brown. It was good to see Browny back as well, although he was unable to do a great deal.

I always forget what a swine the Sheffield ring road is, and it took a mini-eternity to get back on the motorway south. Mark was fretting a bit - his new bewer was due to turn up at his place expecting to be fed, so I used all my driving skills to ensure we got back home in one piece without getting caught breaking any laws.

So the end of Mickey Barron's reign as Pools' temporary manager saw another defeat, but hey ho, another new year, new manager, new Pools?