HARTLEPOOL United slumped into the League One relegation zone after a defensive horror show saw them go down 3-1 at Colchester United, writes Craig Hope.
Leading thanks to Craig Lynch’s early stunner, Neale Cooper’s men then pressed self-destruct as errors from Sam Collins and Peter Hartley allowed Gavin Massey and Jabo Ibehre to fire the hosts in front before the break.
Ibehre added a third in the second half as the visitors put up little fight and duly slid to third from bottom in the table.
It had all started so well and there was an early sight at goal when Hartley, having escaped his minder inside the penalty area, headed over the crossbar from six yards.
But Lynch made no mistake on six minutes when he danced into the area before dropping a delicate curler beyond Mark Cousins.
Pools were in command and Steve Howard came within inches of bettering Lynch’s solo effort when his audacious 30-yard lob landed on the roof of the goal with Cousins scrambling.
Jon Franks was next to have a go and his 25-yard drill skidded wide.
The same player found himself in the clear just moments later but was unable to fashion an angle for a strike on goal and the chance was gone.
The U’s survived yet another scare on the half-hour mark when Tony Sweeney rose to turn Evan Horwood’s corner on goal, handily-placed full-back Brian Wilson heading from the line.
It took until the 33rd minute for the hosts to fashion their first effort on goal and Scott Flinders had to be on his guard to claw over the crossbar after Anthony Wordsworth turned Michael Rose’s whipped centre on target.
Colchester, having begun sluggishly, were now camped in Pools’ half in search of parity and they duly drew level on 37 minutes when Massey pulled off the shoulder of Collins before tucking Craig Eastmond’s throughball beneath Flinders.
And within five minutes they had the lead, Hartley making a mess of Massey’s downfield punt allowing Ibehre to race clear and tuck into the bottom corner.
Pools failed to learn their lesson going into the second half and Collins was again caught napping when Ibehre galloped onto Eastomond’s thread and only Flinders, sprinting from his line to block, denied the debutant a second.
And the Pools netminder was again the saviour just seconds later when he brushed Marcus Bean’s top-corner-bound curler over the crossbar.
Rose was next to have a go but his blast was palmed to safety by the over-employed Flinders.
But there was nothing he could do about Ibehre’s second on the hour mark, the striker afforded the freedom of the penalty to control and convert Rose’s low centre, Hartley again culpable for Pools.
There was a chance for substitute Andy Monkhouse to halve the deficit 10 minutes from time but his low poke trickled inches wide with Cousins beaten.