DEVASTATED Colin Cooper believes his “outstanding” Hartlepool United players couldn’t have done anymore in last night’s cruel defeat to Rotherham United in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
Pools crashed out of the competition at the northern area quarter-final stage after a 2-1 defeat to the Millers at Victoria Park – despite the home side dominating the game and having 18 shots at goal.
But a ninth-minute Tom Eaves header from a corner and a deflected Kieran Agard effort just before half-time was ultimately enough to secure Steve Evans side’s passage into the semi-finals.
Andy Monkhouse had equalised for Pools in the 24th minute of an entertaining match but Pools ultimately couldn’t find a way back into the game against a cynical and time-wasting Rotherham.
A proud Cooper though was at least delighted with the way his players went about the game and said his team “thoroughly deserved” to win.
The 46-year-old said: “I am devastated for the players and they are devastated purely and simply because of the way we went about it from the first minute to the last.
“We have been done by a set-piece and a deflection, that is what I am really gutted about.
“We had 18 attempts on goal last night and their goalkeeper has made five outstanding saves but they have defended the box and put their bodies on the line.
“The Rotherham players gave their manager everything and they had to because they were hanging on for grim death from the first minute to the last.
“I have to take it on the chin and congratulate them and say best of luck in the next round.
“But from Hartlepool United’s point of view I can only pat my players on the back and tell them how devastated I am for them, because I thought they were outstanding.”
Indeed, the Pools gaffer doesn’t think his side, which was unchanged from the 3-2 FA Cup win over Notts County at the weekend, could have done any more.
The former Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest defender said he would have “loved” to have won the match and progress in the competition.
But a gutted Cooper said “I’m disappointed for the lads and they are too but all I’ve said to them is that they can’t do an awful lot more than they did.
“If we continue to do that in the way we are trying to do it, and everybody wants to play their part, then we will be all right.
“We have had a lot of comments from their players and their staff and they have all been very complimentary about the way we have played.
“It is easy to be complimentary when you have won but their captain [Craig Morgan] was a very humble young man and said he thought we were outstanding and that there was no way they should have won that game.
“But they did.
“We take it on the chin and I say well done to them, best of luck and I say to my players we crack on because we are all right.”