DEFLATED Colin Cooper was left ruing a missed opportunity to close the gap on the play-offs after Hartlepool United were beaten 1-0 at Oxford United.
A 77th-minute headed goal from David Connolly was enough to give Oxford all three points at the Kassam Stadium – much to the annoyance of a frustrated Pools manager.
Cooper felt his side had allowed caretaker manager Mickey Lewis’ side to beat them thanks to a crazy few second-half minutes in their Sky Bet League Two fixture.
First Simon Walton was shown a red card in the 75th minute for two fouls in the space of 10 minutes, before Pools gave away a soft free-kick which Connolly then took full advantage from, heading home the winner.
It was a bitterly disappointing result for Pools, who had more than matched sixth-placed Oxford for most of the game.
Indeed Cooper felt his side was going to go on and win until the red mist descended on Walton.
The defeat leaves Pools 10th in League Two, still five points off the top seven, with the rest of the teams – bar Southend who drew 0-0 with Bristol Rovers last night –playing today.
Cooper said: “At half-time I thought we’d seen off the best they had and didn’t think they had anymore to offer.
“But it was a mad five-minute spell [in the second half] when we gave away a couple of silly challenges and then the two yellow cards for Simon before the foul for the free-kick, from which they scored.
“When I was a player, the red mist came down regularly but you have to try to stay calm.
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“You try to encourage the players not to have that, but it came down for a short spell for one or two of them.”
The Pools boss admitted it was another missed opportunity to close the gap on the top seven.
But they are not giving up hope just yet, with eight games still to go.
Cooper added: “We weren’t good enough in the final third.
“The interchange and link-up play that we had last weekend [in the 4-0 win over Bristol Rovers] wasn’t there.
“But all we have done is missed an opportunity, while they now have a stronger foothold in the play-offs.
“We will wait and see where we are once the other games finish and see what the gap is.
“We then have Mansfield and Cheltenham at home next week to see where that takes us.
“It is a missed opportunity and we are frustrated because of the way we have lost the game and I am disappointed we have lost.
“With all due respect to Oxford, I didn’t think that they had done enough to beat us.
“We got a bit frustrated and have allowed them to beat us.”
The disappointed Pools manager felt his side lacked the tempo on display in last weekend’s 4-0 win over Bristol Rovers but still thought they could win the game.
He added: “I thought it was just a matter of time but we weren’t good enough in the final third either if I’m honest.
“I didn’t see them causing us any problems, until a couple of rash challenges.”
Pools did go for it in the final five minutes, going three at the back and pushing James Poole up front alongside Marlon Harewood and Luke James.
But despite a few late chances for James which were screwed wide, Pools couldn’t get back on level terms.
Cooper added: “We had to gamble.
“Poolie looked likely and Luke has had a couple of half chances but it wasn’t quite enough.
“How many times have we said not quite this season? That is maybe where we are.”
Last night was expected to be Lewis’ last match as caretaker, with chairman Ian Lenagan announcing before kick-off that a new manager should be appointed over the weekend.