HARTLEPOOL United go into half-time 1-0 up thanks to a headed goal from Jack Baldwin away to Exeter City.
Baldwin flicked the ball home after good work from winger Jack Compton on the left-hand side to give Pools a deserved lead in the 20th minute.
Manager Colin Cooper made two changes to the team for this afternoon’s League Two clash.
Matthew Dolan returned from injury while Jack Baldwin came back from suspension, with Darren Holden and Bradley Walker dropping down to the bench from the team that beat Sheffield United on Tuesday in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
Pools, who started in a 4-4-1-1 formation, started brightly and Luke James could have given them the lead when the ball was flicked over the defence and he found himself free on goal but fired his shot wide of the left-hand post.
Alan Gow had the home side’s best chance but his low right-footed drive was deflected wide of the post for a corner in the 9th minute.
Tommy Doherty was the first to be booked in the 14th minute when he sliced down the pacy James Poole 10 yards from the half way line, but the resulting free-kick from Matty Dolan came to nothing.
Cooper’s side grew in confidence as the half wore on and looked more than comfortable against third-placed Exeter City.
And it was Pools that took the lead in the 20th minute courtesy of a flicked header from Baldwin, who headed home Jack Compton’s cross after good work from the pacy winger.
It followed a short corner involving Simon Walton and Compton, who dinked a ball with his left boot into the box, which was headed home.
Home defender Danny Butterfield was injured in the goal and was substituted by Jordan Moore-Taylor.
Cooper’s side visibly grew in confidence as the half wore on and Poole’s shot from distance was held in the 25th minute.
Compton then had a fierce strike comfortably held by Artur Kyrsiak in the home goal while Matthew Dolan’s lofted effort from the edge of the box saw the home keeper dive to his right to catch.
James again found himself bearing down on goal in the 30th minute after Poole put him clear on the half-way line but the 18-year-old shot wide under pressure from Danny Coles.
Exeter almost equalised when Craig Woodman’s ball wasn’t cleared and Pools almost gave away the lead but Christian Burgess eventually cleared it away.
The on-loan Middlesbrough defender then gave away a free-kick right on the edge of the area but the resulting strike from Craig Woodman hit the wall.
James’ right-footed strike from inside the area was sliced wide of the right hand post in the 43rd minute as Cooper’s men tried to double their lead going into the break.
Hartlepool United: Scott Flinders, Neil Austin, Matthew Dolan, Christian Burgess, Jack Baldwin, Simon Walton, James Poole, Andy Monkhouse, Jack Compton, Michael Duckworth, Luke James.
Subs: Andy Rafferty, Jonathan Franks, Antony Sweeney, Jordan Richards, Darren Holden, Nialle Rodney, Bradley Walker.
Exeter City: Artur Krysiak, Danny Butterfield (Moore-Taylor, 22), Craig Woodman, Scot Bennett, Pat Baldwin, Danny Coles, Liam Sercombe, Alan Gow, Arron Davies, Tommy Doherty, David Wheeler.
Subs: Christy Pym, Jordan Moore-Taylor, John O’Flynn, Tom Nichols, Jimmy Keohane, Jordan Tillson, Matt Grimes.
Referee: Andy Davies
Assistants: Richard Hulme, Paul Rees.