A CALAMITOUS opening 45 minutes of the season saw Hartlepool United crash to a 5-0 defeat in the first round of the League Cup at Crewe Alexandra.
Neale Cooper’s men were four goals down by half-time following a shambolic defensive showing, A-Jay Leitch-Smith, Max Clayton (2) and Mathias Pogba the men taking full advantage, with the latter of those scorers adding a fifth late on.
Crewe, though, were nervous in possession early on and Jonathan Franks did not need a second invitation to shoot when presented with the ball 25 yards out, his low drive narrowly evading the home target.
But Alex nerves were soon settled when they took the lead on seven minutes.
Peter Hartley needlessly upended Clayton on the fringe of the penalty area, duly earning an early caution.
Ashley Westwood’s free-kick was blocked by the visiting wall but it was Leitch-Smith who reacted quickest to hook beyond Scott Flinders from eight yards out.
There was a chance for Steve Howard to draw immediate parity but his header, from a Franks centre, looped over the crossbar.
But within 60 seconds Crewe had doubled their advantage.
Leitch-Smith again found himself in the clear with the flag staying down despite a strong suspicion of offside.
His effort was repelled by Flinders but the hosts quickly recycled possession and an opening was fashioned for Clayton who steered into the bottom corner with a confident, first-time tuck from 12 yards.
Pools did threaten to halve the deficit through Howard and Horwood, but they were three down on 34 minutes.
Harry Davis served a pin-point delivery from the right and Pogba, afforded an ocean of space just six yards out, cushioned a first-time volley beyond the brutally exposed Flinders.
And it was four soon after, another routine ball over the top sending Clayton clear and he directed low into the back of the net from 18 yards.
Pools were sent out early for the second half with Cooper making just one change, when three would not have come as a surprise.
James Poole replaced Luke James and the visitors began in positive fashion, Franks lashing narrowly over having slid infield from the right and belted on goal from 25 yards.
Franks then dropped a delicate centre onto the brow of Andy Monkhouse and his effort cracked the post with Tony Sweeney unable to force home the rebound.
There was a late chance for Poole to snatch a consolation but his header, from Austin’s delivery, was straight at netminder Alan Martin.
And there was just enough time left for Pogba to inflict further misery with an injury-time effort having wriggled free of Sam Collins.
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