Apkan strike earns Reds victory
Reds chalked up their fourth away win of the season to cement their place in the League One play-off places after a thoroughly deserved win at Hartlepool.
Only a superb performance from Pools' keeper Scott Flinders, who won the man of the match vote, prevented Reds from adding to Hope Akpan's 15th-minute volley. In the second half the home side offered more of a threat but Paul Jones didn't have too many alarms and the visitors still looked a threat on the break.
Reds' first-half performance was probably their best 45 minutes of the season when they carved Hartlepool open at will for long stages.
Claude Davis was restored to the starting line-up after recovering from a hip problem and he replaced the injured Joe Walsh in central defence while Jonathan Forte was preferred up front alongside Gary Alexander.
The home side haven't won for ten games and their lack of confidence was evident from the start although Ryan Noble had the first effort on target for the hosts on 11 minutes when he ran at the defence but fired well over from 25 yards.
It was a rare moment of alarm in a first-half dominated by the visitors and the only surprise at the break was that they weren't more than a goal in front.
The deadlock was broken on 15 minutes. Hartlepool failed to properly clear a corner on two occasions and when the ball fell to AKPAN on the edge of the D he smashed a right-foot volley inside the left-hand post with Flinders for once helpless.
Five minutes later Flinders made the first of a string of fine saves when Alexander slipped Forte in and his shot on the turn was blocked by the keeper's legs. Neil Austin hit a 20-yarder at Jones in a rare Pools' riposte but the visitors were soon threatening at the other end again.
On 24 minutes Flinders dived full-length to keep out Josh Simpson's shot and when the ball fell to Mike Jones on the angle he failed to test the keeper when he should have done. Two minutes later Flinders produced more acrobatics this time to keep out Adams' shot from distance.
Forte had a header disallowed for offside then Flinders made another fine stop, this time flying to his right to keep out Alexander's curler that was heading for the top corner.
Hartlepool roused themselves in the second half but Jones was only called into serious action on two occasions. He held a 22-yard free kick - one of several awarded to the home side in the second half - from Neil Austin and then made a better save when Austin let fly and the ball took a deflection which the keeper saw late and turned around the post.
At the other end Reds were still a threat without carving out the number of chances they had in the first half. On 56 minutes Nathan Byrne flashed an inviting cross into the six-yard box but neither Alexander or Forte could get a decisive touch.
Simpson fired wide on the angle after good work by Adams and in the closing stages Reds held the ball up well in the Hartlepool final third. Kyle McFadzean had to go off after he got kneed in the ribs defending a corner but Mark Connolly came on and did a good job as Reds saw out six minutes of stoppage time without too many alarms.
Reds stay fourth but with two home games to come they can improve their league position this week.