MATCH REPORT: Hartlepool United 2 Mansfield Town 4

ON THE BALL: Luke James is held up by the Mansfield defence

ON THE BALL: Luke James is held up by the Mansfield defence

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HARTLEPOOL United’s slim hopes of reaching the play-offs look to be over after a 4-2 home defeat to Mansfield Town in Sky Bet League Two.

Pools are now nine points off the top seven with just seven matches of the campaign remaining after defeat to Paul Cox’s 17th-placed Stags tonight.

The score was level at 1-1 after the opening 45 minutes, the Stags had taken the lead in the 20th minute through James Jennings before Marlon Harewood equalised eight minutes later with a clinical close range finish.

Harewood then missed a penalty just before the half-time whistle.

Seven minutes into the second half and Pools took the lead through Luke James’ 15th goal of the season after a marvellous defence-splitting pass from Brad Walker.

Mansfield hit back though through a bizarre Jennings free-kick from distance which evaded Scott Flinders and sailed into the top corner before Matt Rhead climbed highest to head home a cross with 10 minutes left.

Jamie McGuire scored the fourth in added-on time .

Going into the game, Pools boss Colin Cooper had made just one chance for the match, with Michael Duckworth returning from his soft tissue injury.

German-born Duckworth was in for the suspended Simon Walton, who serves a one-match ban after seeing red for two yellow card offences in Friday night’s 1-0 defeat at Oxford United.

It was the only change and saw Jordan Richards remain at right-back, with Brad Walker playing at the base of a diamond formation and Duckworth pushed wide right.

Cooper was also without injured pair Andy Monkhouse, out for at least a month with a hamstring strain, and Neil Austin, out for the season with an ongoing toe injury.

Pools, shooting towards the Town End for the second successive home match, started brightly.

The first attempt on goal came in the 7th minute courtesy of an ambitious 30-yard Marlon Harewood strike - the ball sailing high over the crossbar.

Harewood, top scorer Luke James and on-loan Manchester United forward Jack Barmby linked up well in the 11th minute.

Barmby played 19-year-old James in but he took a heavy touch and the ball went out of play for an Alan Marriott goal kick.

Mansfield took the lead in the 20th minute through left-wing back James Jennings who cooly slotted the ball home from eight yards.

Lee Beevers had swung the ball across, which was then miscued by burly forward Matt Rhead only to find Jennings free to take full advantage.

The home crowd was getting restless as the half wore on with Pools struggling to find any rhythm or tempo to their play, with Flinders seeing a lot of the ball under pressure from the Mansfield forwards.

But then Pools struck an equaliser - Harewood with his third goal for the club and his third goal in front of the Town End.

Barmby’s quick footwork on the edge of the penalty area in the 28th minute eventually found Jack Compton in space out wide, he turned inside and played the ball back to Barmby who shot from just inside the area.

That attempt was blocked but it fell kindly to Harewood who finished in clinical style from six yards.

Walker was coping well at the base of the diamond against a physical Mansfield forward line as the game entered a quiet period just before the half time break.

The game then burst back into life.

Mansfield claimed for a penalty with Oliver Palmer claiming he had been fouled by Christian Burgess but referee Gary Sutton waved it away.

Then from the resulting break, Duckworth jinked into the box and was felled by Ritchie Sutton for a spot kick in the 44th minute.

Harewood, deputising in place of Walton, stepped up but Marriott dived to his left to palm the ball away to safety.

Richards then had a free-kick easily saved from 25-yards before the referee blew for the half-time break.

Half Time: Pools 1 Mansfield 1

It took just 90 seconds after the re-start for Duckworth to be booked, for a clumsy foul on Anthony Howell.

By the 52nd minute Pools had their noses in front thanks to James’ 15th goal of the season.

Harewood and Compton had linked up well down the left flank with the winger beating two men before playing it back to the former Nottingham Forest striker.

His attempt was blocked but it fell to 17-year-old Walker who played in James with a defence-splitting pass and the striker finished well low into the left-hand corner and in off the post.

Harewood was injured in the build-up but managed to come back onto the pitch.

Pools had upped the ante since taking the lead, Walker this time drilling a shot just wide of Marriott’s left-hand post.

In response Mansfield made a double substitution, adding more pace and converting to a 4-4-2 formation with half an hour left to play.

Cooper then brought on Antony Sweeney and James Poole in the 62nd minute, in place of Harewood and Compton, while two minutes later he was forced into his third substitute.

Debutant Dan Jones coming on at left-back in place of the injured Darren Holden, who went off holding his left-hand side.

Sub Poole looked keen to impress and volleyed a shot about a foot wide of the left stick in the 68th minute.

Burgess was then booked for a foul on Palmer, his ninth of the season, and from the resulting free-kick Jennings scored his second of the match to pull Mansfield level.

Jennings slipped as he took it from the right-hand flank and the ball looped over Flinders into the top left-hand corner in the 72nd minute.

Walker was also booked, while Palmer rocketed a shot off the crossbar as the away side put Pools under increasing pressure.

It was exhilarating stuff with both sides going for the win and the game looked set for a grandstand finish.

Sweeney had a goal rightly ruled out for a foul before Mansfield went up the other end and took the lead.

Beevers’ deep cross from the right found the head of Matt Rhead who got above Collins to nod the ball into the corner of Flinders’ net in the 80th minute.

Poole then had a shot deflected wide as frustration levels grew around the ground.

The fourth official added six minutes of added on time but Pools were unable to take advantage.

Instead Jamie McGuire made it 4-2 with a deflected goal in the 92nd minute to bring an end to Pools five-match unbeaten run at home.

Full time: Pools 2 Mansfield 4

Pools (4-4-2): Flinders, Richards, Collins (C), Burgess, Holden (Jones, 64), Walker, Duckworth, Compton (Poole, 62), Barmby, James, Harewood (Sweeney, 62).

Subs Not Used: Rafferty, Rowbotham, Hawkins, Franks.

Booking: Duckworth, Burgess, Walker,

Goals: Harewood (28), James, (52)

Mansfield (3-5-2): Marriott, Jennings, Howell (Clucas, 58), Murray (C), Dempster (Meikle, 58), Riley, Beevers, McGuire, Rhead, Sutton, Palmer (Speight, 82).

Subs Not Used: Clements, Westlake, Daniel, Stevenson.

Booked: Dempster, Jennings

Goals: Jennings (20, 72), Rhead (80) McGuire (90)

Referee: Gary Sutton (Lincolnshire)

Attendance: 2,976 (Mansfield 128)