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Play-offs flight of fancy for off-the-boil Pools
Full-time: Hartlepool United 2 Mansfield Town 4
COLIN COOPER has used a regular phrase of late. He’s been worried his Hartlepool United side will “fall short” of the League Two play-offs this season.
Last night he could add the word ‘well’ into the middle of his sentence.
Leading 2-1 in the closing stages of the game against a Mansfield side high on energy and low on ability, they contrived to collapse in a manner unseen at Victoria Park this season. They did indeed fall well short.
The three goals they conceded in the last 12 minutes were stunning in their nature.
Defeat – Pools’ second in a row – leaves them a tough nine points short of the playoffs.
With seven games to go, and other teams, York included, in good form, a spot in the end of season shake-up appears unlikely.
It’s fair to say Pools fans can book a holiday for May confident they won’t miss the chance of a day out at Wembley.
Cooper said: “It’s a result and performance we aren’t accustomed to. The goals and the nature of them from our point of view isn’t great.
“We’ve not conceded a goal here in a while and it’s hard to take. There’s lessons to be learned. The goals and the lead up to them isn’t great. We need to sit down, watch again, and make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes.
“I think they will be surprised when they sit down and see them again. It happens sometimes and it’s my job to analyse it. You learn more when you lose.
“Free-flowing football and goals in the last few home games are very nice, but....’’ And he added: “I’ve been keen to watch the goals again straight after the game. It’s not good viewing.
“As a team we look at them.
As an individual we ask what we could have done to stop them.
“Younger players in particular it’s a harsh lesson tonight. We have to make sure it’s a one-off.’’ Pools trailed last night when Rhead, an honest striker of burly proportions, missed his shot, but the defence opened and the ball fell for the alert James Jennings to turn in from close range.
It was the first goal Pools have conceded at home since January 11 – a run of 470 minutes.
There was more to come later on.
Pools levelled with a wellworked goal on 28 minutes.
Jack Barmby, on the final game of his loan from Manchester United, ran in familiar territory on the edge of the opposition area, keeping the ball alive and asking questions.
He fed Jack Compton out wide, who returned the pass and Barmby’s shot was halfcleared – but only as far as Marlon Harewood. Eight yards out he wasn’t going to miss the chance and made no mistake.
The same could not be said in first-half injury time.
Michael Duckworth, starting in a more advanced rightsided role, was chopped down in the penalty area.
In the absence of Simon Walton, the regular spot-kick taker, Harewood took the kick. But it was a comfortable height for keeper Alan Marriott to dive to his left and palm away.
Instead of going off at halftime on a high, things were flat.
But Luke James has often been the source of inspiration and so it proved again. Latching onto a delightful Bradley Walker pass in behind the defence, he arrowed a low angled finish past Marriott for his 15th of the season.
Pools were forced into three changes, with Harewood (ankle), Compton (hamstring) and Darren Holden (back) all suffering injuries.
The Stags are a strong, physical side and Pools were on the wrong end of it. But credit to boss Paul Cox – after switching to a 4-4-2 they stretched Pools.
There was some fortune about their leveller. Christian Burgess was ruled to have brought down Jamie McGuire, it wasn’t even a foul let alone a booking.
Jennings took the free-kick, slipped as he took it and the mis-hit sailed over Scott Flinders’ head and high into the net. Jennings even managed to kick himself in falling when taking the kick.
But Rhead stole some space at the far post when met a right-wing cross to put the Stags ahead and, in injury time, McGuire broke away for a fourth.
Cooper is confident of making some additions to his injury- hit squad before tomorrow’s loan deadline. Barmby is likely to extend his stay as Pools enter their final stretch and their last hopes of making the play-offs.