MATCH REPORT: Pools roll over as U’s hit jackpot

Jabo Ibehre scores Colchester's second
Jabo Ibehre scores Colchester's second
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WHILE the rest of the nation were hurriedly hoarding Lotto tickets ahead of the landmark draw, Pools were performing a quadruple rollover of their own.

Yes, for the fourth time on the road this season, Neale Cooper’s side allowed their hosts to hit the jackpot.

No need for good fortune here, overcoming Pools is no 14-million-to-one shot, it’s about as certain as the bonus ball being between one and 49.

What chance Pools putting up a fight in the spirit of Camelot legend King Arthur? Sadly, about as much chance as a pale-skinned Dale Winton presenting In It To Win It, the National Lottery quiz show.

But there are no prizes for guessing where Pools are heading right now.

Saturday was embarrassing, alarming, gutless – dream up any adverse adjective you like, most are probably applicable.

But what of that opening half hour, some might proffer.

Okay, Pools were decent, and they scored – the Lotto equivalent of seeing two of your picks the first to be drawn, only to end up with a worthless piece of pink paper in your hand.

For football matches do not conclude at half past three, likewise you get nothing for a pair of numbers.

When Pools report to Maiden Castle today, both Sam Collins and Peter Hartley will shudder as a chilly shadow descends, the big foam finger from the sky emerging to declare – It Could Be You.

For one of the duo, their number is up, Cooper promising to yield Excalibur in response to yet another defensive disaster.

If he could, the manager would have both of his centre-halves alongside him in the dugout when Sheffield United come to Victoria Park tomorrow tonight.

But a shortage of options means that clemency will be served on one of the double act and whichever lands the Lucky Dip will partner Jack Baldwin at the heart of the rearguard.

The 18-year-old, deployed at right-back against The U’s, was, along with goalkeeper Scott Flinders, the only player deserving of any praise when Cooper came to reflect, and that in itself casts the spotlight on others at the back.

But there was no need for guesswork this time, the Scot was decisively damning in his verdict of Collins, his skipper, and Hartley, the player of the year.

So what was the cause of his ire?

Well, as alluded to above, Pools were sitting pretty at the third-way marker.

It had taken Craig Lynch, the Sunderland loanee, just six minutes to weave clear of two opposing defenders before sizing the most sumptuous curler into the far corner for his first professional goal.

There were to be further openings for Steve Howard, landing an audacious 35-yard lob on the roof of the net, Jonathan Franks, who bizarrely veered off course when in on goal, and Tony Sweeney, whose header was cleared from the line.

But then, just as supporters had foolishly dared to dream of a points prize, a familiar foe intervened – the defensive collapse.

Sanchez Watt, the Arsenal loanee as bright as his surname suggests, measured a pass through the centre of the park, the territory supposedly manned by centre-halves.

Except it wasn’t.

And, accepting his invitation of a run on goal, Gavin Massey scampered clear of the labouring Collins to slot beneath Flinders.

Now for the turn of Hartley.

And, as if in a show of solidarity for his crestfallen captain, he managed to inflict upon himself about as much humiliation as any man can suffer with their clothes still on.

Massey lumped a harmless ball downfield. There was no danger. Enter Hartley. Attempting a fanciful, headed flick back to his keeper, his errant execution allowed Jabo Ibehre to pounce and he made no mistake with a cool finish beyond the cruelly exposed Flinders.

Was there to be a second-half response, a rallying repeat of their early promise? Not likely.

The only repeat was that of defensive despair.

Ibehre soon took the chance to peel off Collins and wander free on goal, only Flinders sparing his skipper’s blushes.

There were more chances, too many to mention, each repelled by the over-employed netminder.

But two did become three when Michael Rose slammed a ball into the danger zone and Ibehre, the lone blue-and-white shirt amid a static sea of navy, controlled before poking home from an embarrassing distance of just two yards.

It would not be fair, however, to make just Hartley and Collins the subject of this censure.

Sweeney, as much as there is to admire of him as both a player and person, needs to be taken out of the side.

Effort alone has meant he has been spared such demotion in recent weeks, but the midfielder is contributing precious little in terms of assists or goals, the currency in which he does his business.

Winger Lynch, scorer of a very fine goal it must be said, appeared to sign off for the afternoon following his solo strike, while Franks, on the opposite flank, lacked killer quality during that early spell of dominance.

Paul Murray looked tired, James Poole void of confidence and Howard frustrated to the point of earning himself a needless yellow.

And what of Cooper?

Whatever his instruction, his players are not seeing it through.

He needs to find a way of getting more from a squad who have previously proved their capabilities.

Because right now they don’t seem interested in football, in each other or, worryingly, in anything their manager has to say.

We last wrote words to that exact effect in the midst of last season’s nine-game losing streak at Victoria Park, and we know where that ended.

The players owe Cooper more.

Sadly, on current form, even the wizard Merlin would struggle to conjure a winning ticket.