Match of the Day: League leaders Hartlepool United are humbled 4-0 away to Rochdale in December 2002.

How the Hartlepool Mail reported the 4-0 defeat away to Rochdale.
How the Hartlepool Mail reported the 4-0 defeat away to Rochdale.

LEAGUE leaders Hartlepool United were brought crashing back down to earth with a bump after their title challenge was given a harsh reality check.

Pools had gone into the Nationwide Football League Division Three match top of the table and full of confidence but two goals in either half rocked the away side.

Clive Platt opened the scoring in the 26th minute to give Dale a dream start, which they capitalised on in the 43rd minute through Lee McEvilly. Ex-Pools striker Paul Connor scored the third before McEvilly added his second and Pools’ fourth in the 62 minute to complete the rout.

Defeat, it is fair to say, came as a huge shock to Mike Newell and his squad.

It left Newell facing his first big test of his managerial career - putting the hammering to bed before the visit of Scunthorpe United. It was Pools’ heaviest defeat since 1997 when Mick Tait’s team was hammered 5-0 at Brighton.

A collective off-day, coupled with individual errors, proved costly.

Newell told SportMail: “We shot ourselves in the foot really but we were not as bad as the scoreline suggests.

“We gave them quite a few gifts and you can’t get away with those kind of mistakes.

“They are professionals and, of course, they are disappointed, they have let people down.

“But we are in this together and I am not going to start pointing the finger.

“A 4-0 defeat is a bit of a kick in the teeth but we are still top and although there was little to comfort them after that game, a look at the table should be the only lift they need.”

Pools: Williams, Bass, Lee, Westwood, Arnison, Murphy, Widdrington, Tinkler, Humphreys, Williams, Richardson. Subs: Provett, Henderson, Sharp, Istead, Boyd. Attendance: 3,059