HARTLEPOOL United again surrendered a lead away from home as they went down to a 2-1 defeat at Crewe Alexandra, writes Craig Hope.
Neale Cooper’s men - beaten 3-1 at Colchester United seven days ago having scored early on - were in front inside 10 minutes when Evan Horwood pounced, but goals from Chuks Aneke and Mark Ellis - either side of a missed Mathias Pogba penalty - saw home the points for Alex as Pools again went down with little sign of fight.
Cooper had included Sunderland loanee Ryan Noble from the off and he signalled his intent within two minutes when collecting a short poke from Steve Howard on the edge of the area, spinning before landing a curler on the roof of the net.
Pools lost Andy Monkhouse soon after, the midfielder turning his ankle chasing a throughball, and he was replaced by Horwood.
And, within 60 seconds, the substitute had his goal, latching on to a Tony Sweeney headed flick before nicking beyond the on-rushing Alan Martin.
But Scott Flinders had to be on his guard to preserve that lead when Aneke’s deflected shot spun towards the bottom corner, the Pools netminder getting down to smuggle around the upright.
Matt Tootle then found himself in space inside the visiting penalty area but the defender lost his composure and lashed over the crossbar.
Tootle did find the target just moments later when again joining the attack but Flinders stood strong to fist clear his 12-yard blast.
At the other end the lively Noble seized upon a Howard flick before stinging the palms of Martin from a narrow angle.
The hosts’ were awarded their spot-kick five minutes before the break when Peter Hartley slid to intervene as Ajay Leitch-Smith took aim inside the area, the skipper’s arm ultimately blocking its path to goal.
But Mathias Pogba’s woeful effort was skied over the crossbar and Pools’ lead remained intact.
That, however, was to change in first-half stoppage-time when Aneke swept a wonderful finish into the top corner from 20 yards.
Pools were slow out of the blocks in the second half but they were soon presented with two golden chances to restore their lead, both spurned by Noble.
The first saw Darren Holden scamper into the area before rolling back into the path of the striker who saw his low steer blocked by Martin, the keeper spreading his frame to save on the edge of the six-yard area.
Within 60 seconds the forward was again in on goal but this time, having slid his effort under Martin, full-back Tootle recovered to hack from the goalmouth.
Crewe, though, got their noses in front 20 minutes from time when Jack Baldwin needlessly felled Max Clayton on the left flank.
Home skipper Luke Murphy delivered a devilish free-kick which was allowed to zip unopposed through the area and centre-back Ellis helped it home at the far post.
But Pools came within a lick of paint of drawing level soon after when Neil Austin’s left-footed slicer spiralled over Martin before clipping the underside of the crossbar and bouncing to safety.
The Railwaymen were ever dangerous on the break and Leitch-Smith hooked just inches wide of goal when escaping Baldwin five minutes from time.
There was a late chance for Craig Lynch, another Sunderland loanee, to salvage a draw but he was always stretching to get on the end of Tony Sweeney’s flick and his far-post hook nestled into the side-netting.