HAT-TRICK hero Matt Phillips was the star of the show at Barnsley but Mark Howard wasn’t far behind.
The keeper, out of a job and looking for work two months ago, stepped in at the last minute for the injured Matt Gilks and had a blinder.
Howard, 25, released by Aberdeen in the summer, made several good stops during the Seasiders’ 3-1 victory (their best league win at Oakwell since 1929) and had manager Ian Holloway purring.
The boss said: “Mark was absolutely foot-perfect. It was as if he has been playing all season, so well done to him.
“He was outstanding, and the only way his debut could have been better was if he had stopped their first goal, which was impossible because it was a very decent goal Barnsley scored.
“I don’t know what to say – the lad was just terrific. Credit to him because he has had to wait for his chance and be patient, mainly because Matt Gilks has been playing so well. The best compliment I can give him is that last year we struggled when Gillo got injured. Yesterday we looked just as good and just as competent a unit without Gillo.
“So that is massive credit to Mark. He did superbly well and I am delighted with him.”
On any other day, Howard would have been Pool’s man of the match.
But that accolade went to Matt Phillips, who at last broke a goal duck stretching back to September 25, 2010, when he scored on his Seasiders debut in the Premier League against Blackburn.
He ended his drought in style, blasting the first hat-trick of his career.
It ensured three points for Pool, which takes them to seventh in the table – just a point behind Reading and a spot in the all-important play-off zone.
Holloway added: “It was a great win and I want to say thanks to the supporters.”
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– who backed us brilliantly – thank you to everybody in the team, and thank you and well done to Matt Phillips in particular,” added Holloway.
“He probably missed the easiest chance of all (a first half volley which flew wide) but it was only a matter of time before he scored - and I now think it’s only a matter of time before he starts scoring for us on a regular basis.
“I am glad he has started getting those goals because he looks such a handful at the moment and it is frightening how good he is.”
Phillips has already scored twice when Pool won a penalty eight minutes from time.
The 20-year-old wasn’t interested in taking the kick … until his team-mates told him he’d be mad not to.
“At the time I didn’t even think about taking the penalty and getting a hat-trick. I had switched off,” Phillips admitted. “I was just happy we’d got the penalty.
“Then I looked up and saw Kevin Phillips shouting at me from the side to go and take it and I thought ‘he’s right - I’m on a hat-trick so I should be over there taking it’. I am very proud it went in and delighted to score a few goals.”
Holloway – whose decision to send Phillips on loan to Sheffield United, where he blasted six goals in six games, is now fully justified - added: “We all wanted Matt to take the penalty.
“It was important because we needed a goal at that stage. We have let goals in during the latter moments in recent weeks. We haven’t seen things through and we’ve let the opposition score when they shouldn’t have done, so having that two-goal cushion towards the end was a bonus.”
Holloway described Neal Eardley as “incredibly unlucky” to be left out after fit-again Alex Baptiste was preferred at right back.
The manager was cheered by the return of Elliot Grandin, who came on as a second half substitute for his first appearance since suffering a serious foot injury in the third game of the campaign.
The only downside is the knowledge that Gilks could be out for while – though no one is exactly yet sure what the keeper’s injury is.
It is a problem in the groin region, suffered in training on Christmas Eve.
Gilks will have a scan tomorrow to discover the extent of the injury
Seasiders secretary Matt Williams spent his Christmas day evening filling in forms and hurriedly recalling Mark Halstead from a loan spell at Stockport.
Halstead travelled to Barnsley, though in the end didn’t make the bench as Holloway opted for five outfield players on the bench.