Hartlepool Utd sink without trace at Leyton Orient

Hartlepool United players at the end of the game. Picture by FRANK REID

Hartlepool United players at the end of the game. Picture by FRANK REID

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WHILE England were being flooded out in Poland, Pools were sinking without a trace in East London.

How Neale Cooper will today be wishing that the downpour witnessed in Warsaw had first passed by Brisbane Road, forcing the postponement of this fixture for the second time in eight weeks.

For the game in hand – a supposed chance to recover ground towards safer terrain – has merely served to worsen Pools’ plight.

Indeed, until 9.40pm – and a Carlisle United equaliser at bottom club Bury – Pools had plummeted to the bed of the League One ocean.

Result aside, this was a performance of such ineptitude, you worry that, whoever the manager, he would be swimming against an irreversible tide.

The players, it seems, are not good enough.

And what they lack in quality they do not compensate for in fight.

There are a few exceptions, but last night was no occasion for plucking positives from amid the mire.

It was, from the first kick, lacking in verve, inspiration and passion.

Pools, as skipper Peter Hartley later agreed, defended, defended and then defended some more.

They failed to knit together any semblance of attacking possession, their custody of the football very much a temporary arrangement.

Alarmingly, they did not seem to even want the said sphere, let alone warrant it.

Instead, they hurriedly returned possession to its rightful owners, for Orient were everything Pools were not – confident, positive and purposeful.

And, worse still, the visitors seemed to enjoy the show, happily affording their opponents as much time and space as they needed to mount attack after attack of their own.

Hartley, in an honest appraisal, deemed it “shameful”, Cooper used the word “dire”, both indisputable assessments.

But it is perhaps the gutless nature of the surrender which is most galling of all.

For here is a team who are supposedly scrapping for survival – survival of their gaffer and survival of themselves as third-tier footballers.

We’re not going to pull any punches here, for without Hartlepool United a fair few of the current squad might not be in the professional game.

After just 12 matches of the league campaign several senior members have already played themselves out of the side, Cooper, it seems, not deeming them trustworthy when it comes to protecting his livelihood.

But then the Scot turns to last night’s XI – a side which had done him proud against Doncaster Rovers three days previous – and he must today wonder where else is there to turn?

One man beyond reproach, however, is goalkeeper Scott Flinders.

Without the gloveman right now Pools would be shipping fives and sixes, and Cooper knows it.

Inside the first 12 minutes at Orient he had thwarted Moses Odubajo, twice, and skipper Nathan Clarke, the last of those saves a stupendous claw from the bottom corner.

Odubajo was the tormentor in chief, teenage left-back Darren Holden the victim.

Brutally exposed but not helping himself at times either, Holden was repeatedly tortured by the weaving winger.

However, if Orient boss Russell Slade did boast any hair on his head then he would have yanked it out by the time the break arrived, for his side had failed to capitalise upon their dominance.

A chance to regroup for Pools, a chance to right the wrongs of the most woeful first-half display.

As if.

Within 100 seconds of the restart they were trailing, Odubajo, unapprehended on the right, sweeping a sumptuous cross onto the brow of Ryan Brunt who, having escaped the napping Jack Baldwin, nodded home.

Too easy.

The scorer spurned a glorious chance for a second soon after.

There was a brief rally – Steve Howard headed against the crossbar from a corner – but to put forward any notion of a “spirited response” would be to insult the 127 Pools fans in attendance.

By this point Jonathan Franks and Ryan Noble had been withdrawn, both shunned by Cooper as they sloped into the dugout, for he had been disappointed with a pair he rates so highly.

But they weren’t alone in their performance, the senior midfield trio of Tony Sweeney, Paul Murray and Ritchie Humphreys had failed to impose themselves on their engine-room adversaries, while Howard had grown frustrated to the point of swiping out at an opponent and earning himself a needless booking.

Cooper turned to three young substitutes for help, but Jordan Richards’ last-minute free-kick – hoisted straight out of play – just about summed up a desperate night for the visitors.

The full-time whistle was a relief.

Cooper needs to steady this sinking ship before it is too late, for him and Pools.