Richard Mennear’s analysis: Hartlepool United’s late defeat to Burton was sickening, deflating, typical.

Dan Jones in action for Hartlepool United against Burton Albion. Picture by FRANK REID

Dan Jones in action for Hartlepool United against Burton Albion. Picture by FRANK REID

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YOU can probably now safely start to dust off the maps to Dover, Altrincham and Braintree.

Defeat to Burton Albion was a hammerblow and it felt like a pivotal moment.

And one from which this Hartlepool United side are unlikely to recover from.

The game itself was awful, easily one of the worst you’ll see this season, with little to separate the two sides on a poor pitch in strong winds.

It had 0-0 written all over it.

And you’d usually settle for a point at home to a team gunning for automatic promotion in Sky Bet League Two.

Ryan Bird in action for Hartlepool United against Burton Albion. Picture by FRANK REID

Ryan Bird in action for Hartlepool United against Burton Albion. Picture by FRANK REID

But it was snatched away in the dying minutes, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s side scoring the winner from an attacking Pools free-kick.

The defending for it was as bad as the football on offer in the proceeding 87 minutes.

Nicky Featherstone – who should have brought Stuart Beavon down in the build-up – was caught wanting and Neil Austin and Scott Harrison caught flat-footed.

Florent Cuvelier allowed to fire low under Scott Flinders to seal the three points and send the Brewers top.

Burton Albion score to win the game against Hartlepool United 1-0. Picture by FRANK REID

Burton Albion score to win the game against Hartlepool United 1-0. Picture by FRANK REID

The goal summed up the season and too many of the current players, too soft and too weak.

Four defeats in five games now at a time when Pools need to be stringing together results. Instead their current form finds them teetering on the brink.

Just 11 games remain, and with Ronnie Moore’s side eight points adrift – nine with the goal difference – they are going to have to win at least seven to stand a chance.

Problem is, they have only won seven all season and they struggle to score, struggle to keep clean sheets and can’t win away from home.

Scott Flinders at the end of Pools' 1-0 loss at home against Burton Albion. Picture by FRANK REID

Scott Flinders at the end of Pools' 1-0 loss at home against Burton Albion. Picture by FRANK REID

It is a recipe for disaster, and with back-to-back away trips to Morecambe and Oxford United to come, the writing is on the wall.

Injuries to key players haven’t helped, playmaker Michael Woods ruled out for the season and top league goalscorer Scott Fenwick out for the foreseeable.

Fenwick was in the press box on Saturday, on co-commentary duties for the club’s website, wearing his moon boot to protect his ankle.

Pools may well have won the game if he had been on the pitch.

But instead they struggled to create chances or build any momentum, rhythm or tempo. And Pools were arguably the better side.

It showed how bad Burton were, you’d never have guessed they are gunning for automatic promotion.

Marlon Harewood is pulled back in the Burton penalty area for Hartlepool United against Burton Albion. Picture by FRANK REID

Marlon Harewood is pulled back in the Burton penalty area for Hartlepool United against Burton Albion. Picture by FRANK REID

Defeat was gut-wrenching and while Moore is trying to remain positive, he will know it will take a minor miracle to keep this Pools side in the league.

The reasons why date back to last summer, poor transfer decisions by then boss Colin Cooper caused Pools to start the season in a manner from which they have never recovered.

Paul Murray’s eight-week stint was another poor decision by the owners, if only Moore had been given the job then.

Moore was appointed in mid-December, still time to save the club but with major problems to overcome first.

He has gone about reshaping the first team in terms of personnel and performance but the same problems remain.

Weak-willed, it is a mental problem as much as anything with the current crop of players.

You’d never have guessed they were fighting for Football League survival – and their futures – by the performance, no matter how strong the wind was.

A major overhaul is needed in the summer, regardless of which division the team finds itself playing in.

Moore made three changes following the lacklustre defeat to Dagenham & Redbridge.

Connor Smith, Michael Duckworth and Jonathan Franks were dropped in place of Marlon Harewood, Jordan Jones and Dan Jones.

Dan Jones, in at left back with Austin moved to right-back, looked to have fouled Lucas Akins inside the penalty area after just three minutes.

Instead, referee Darren Bond booked the forward for diving.

Pools had their first of two penalty appeals turned down in the 16th minute, Aaron Tshibola’s close range shot blocked by the arm of Damien McCrory.

Harewood – who was getting some ribbing from the travelling supporters – had his own penalty decision turned down after grappling with John Mousinho, the Brewers captain appearing to pull Harewood down.

Chances were rare in a drab opening half, Ryan Bird trying his luck with a half-volley from the edge of the box. Easily saved.

One bright spot was young Jordan Jones on the right wing, first-half he was the dangerman with his pace, energy and willingness to run at the defence.

He faded second-half but there were signs of promise.

The tempo after the break was as flat as the first, Moore looked to his subs bench to reinvigorate his side.

The disappointing Harewood and the ineffective Compton hooked, with Smith and Franks coming on.

In truth the second half was even worse than the first, Beavon shooting wide from distance in the 71st minute one of the highlights.

As the game wore on, Moore, his bench and the supporters were urging the team on.

But they couldn’t build any pressure before the suckerpunch came in the 88th minute – and it came from an attacking Pools free-kick.

Burton stopper Jon McLaughlin punched the ball clear and Beavon broke forward.

Featherstone should have flattened him, giving away a foul and taking a booking for his team.

But no challenge came, instead Beavon beat him, Jordan Jones and Austin before sliding in Cuvelier, who finished low under Flinders, who could also have done better.

Sickening. Deflating. Typical.

In the space of a week, genuine hope of survival following the Wimbledon win has evaporated.

Pools (4-4-2): Flinders (C), Austin, Harrison, Mirfin, D Jones, J Jones, Tshibola, Featherstone, Compton (Franks, 62), Harewood (Smith, 62), Bird (Morgan, 80).

Subs Not Used: Maxted, Richards, Duckworth, Walker.

Booked: Tshibola (58)

Burton: McLaughlin, Edwards, Mousinho, Cansdell-Sherriff, McCrory; Akins, Weir, Naylor, Palmer (Cuvelier, 84 (Taft, 90)), Antoine-Curier (El Khayati, 75), Beavon.

Subs Not Used: Shearer, Phillips, Slade, Harness.

Booked: Akins (3)

Goal: Cuvelier (88)

Referee: Darren Bond (Lancashire)

Attendance: 3,289 (170 Burton)