15 January 2022

Joey Barton praises James Belshaw after vital role in Bristol Rovers win

15 January 2022

Bristol Rovers boss Joey Barton hailed the efforts of goalkeeper James Belshaw after two late goals rescued a poor performance in a 2-0 win over 10-man Hartlepool.

Aaron Collins fired home from 10 yards after 87 minutes and Antony Evans made sure of the points with a superb stoppage-time free-kick after Hartlepool’s Jamie Sterry had been sent off for a foul which denied Collins a clear scoring opportunity.

It was rough justice on the visitors, who were denied by several Belshaw saves – the best a reaction stop to keep out Mark Cullen’s 80th-minute volley.

Barton said: “James Belshaw was brought in to provide competition for Anssi Jaakkola. He knew that and has absolutely flourished since joining us.

“Anssi has had fitness problems and James has grasped his opportunity brilliantly. He is a credit to the club on the pitch and off it in the way he interacts with young supporters.

“Our crowd love him and if he carries on like this we will be building a statue for him! Now Anssi is ready again and we go into the second half of the season with two really good keepers.

“We know we have not been anywhere near the standards we set for ourselves and we didn’t put them under that much pressure.

“Hartlepool are no mugs but our fans expect us to blow them away.

“Nervousness creeps in at home if we are not at our best but the fitness of our players is a credit to them and has ensured we kept going to the end.”

Barton was pleased with the debut of striker Ryan Loft following his move from Scunthorpe and added: “He gave us extra physical presence. Now we have to work to making the most of his assets.”

Hartlepool boss Graeme Lee said: “The result was a real sickener. For 85 minutes we were fantastic and we were punished for not taking our chances.

“While we are devastated with how the game panned out, we have to take so much from the performance.

“We need to be more clinical in front of goal. Mark Cullen has probably hit his shot too cleanly and he did really well after going on as a substitute.

“But it’s not the first time we have paid for not taking our opportunities and that is a big part of the game. We also had a good shout for a first-half penalty.

“We failed to defend our box for the first goal and a slight hesitation led to the sending-off but overall I am delighted with the players.

“I am gutted but I keep telling myself it is the performance that matters. We had enough chances to win three games.

“When we start taking them, someone is in for a hammering.”

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