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Pools cut down by Blades' late goal
NEALE Cooper has, for the most of the season, been critical of his players - and he has had every right to be.
But in defeat to Sheffield United, he had nothing but praise for the performance of his Hartlepool United side.
The Blades, managed by ex-Pools boss Danny Wilson, and unbeaten this season scored from their two worthy shots on target.
And, while defensive howlers have caused Pools too many problems of late, no-one could be faulted this time in a sterling display.
They looked set for a draw when Steve Howard thumped in a 77th minute leveller. Even that would have been harsh after dominating and forcing the Blades' centre-halves under incessant pressure.
When Paul Gallagher curled in a low winner with two minutes to go it will have cut Cooper as deep as the 5-0 maulings at Crewe and Preston.
But the difference this time was that he had pride in defeat.
"It was so much better, we created numerous chances and we were after a big reaction -it's not been good enough overall, but I'm so proud tonight,'' he said.
"We were up for to from the word go all over the park. I made changes and the players who came in were very good.
"It was like watching an old Hartlepool team, like the one I used to have here. No-one is more fed up than me about our League position and, although we lost like that, I am so proud of them.
"We were unlucky not to score a couple, but they have showed what they are about. Supporters clapped their team off after losing - they can see what we are trying to do and they want to see that sort of effort.''
He added: "The players can be proud of this performance after things have been so negative. They have set the standard now and they have to keep it up.''
"One or two of the boys said it was some of the best football we have played, we just need a bit of luck and maybe we aren't getting it.
"We worked so hard and, if they perform like that with that sort of attitude and workrate and application, you get a reward.
"I like to see nice football, but I want to see them putting tackles in and fighting and showing spirit and they did that.
"There was no giving goals away tonight like we have been and you have to be strong. I wanted the players to show supporters what they are about - Hartlepool people will respect you for working and playing like that.''
Right from the off, with three changes to their starting XI, Pools played with some fire in their bellies.
That fight and character has been sadly lacking too often, but they had it in spades .
They fell behind when Tony McMahon, the former Middlesbrough full-back, swung over a deep cross for Dave Kitson to steal inside the six-yard area to pinch a goal.
Pools have a habit of shipping a swift second goal, but this time it was all about pressing for a leveller.
Andy Monkhouse, back in the team and impressive , sliced into the side netting after robbing McMahon of possession.
Antony Sweeney was back on form and his trademark surges into the area could have brought at least a couple of goals with some luck.
He headed against the bar from a deep Jon Franks corner - on Saturday at Colchester the same pair combined for Sweeney to have a header cleared off the line and Monkhouse was unable to force in the leveller.
The start of the second-half saw Pools maintain their pressure, Sweeney couldn't get the ball from under his feet. Darren Holden, in at left back, was a constant source of attacking energy.
Howard flashed a ball across goal ahead of everyone, Franks picked it up on the opposite flank.
His deep cross was meat and drink for Howard to power in an angled header for a thoroughly deserved leveller.
It was the least they deserved and yet they still managed to end up with nothing.
A low Ryan Flynn ball into the area fell for Paul Gallagher to curl in from 12 yards.