NEW Year’s Day is supposed to be the dawn of a new era, of fresh hope and expectation.
Yet somehow, Hartlepool United managed to remove all the fun and excitement out of what was remaining of the festive period and turn the clock back 12-months.
Pools were flat, second best and pedestrian at times as Bury raced into a 2-0 lead inside 12 minutes of the Sky Bet League Two clash at Victoria Park.
This wasn’t how the script was meant to go.
Colin Cooper’s side went into the game full of expectation and confidence following impressive away performances against table-toppers Chesterfield on Boxing Day (1-1) and play-off contenders Morecambe on Sunday (2-1).
Before kick-off, Pools were sitting pretty in 13th, just six points off the play-offs and with several other League Two games called off, Cooper’s men had a real chance to stake a claim against a side two points above the relegation zone.
Indeed, they almost took the lead within two minutes, Bradley Walker’s poked effort cleared off the line.
But Pools were made to pay.
Within five minutes they were 1-0 down through Danny Mayor and by the 12th minute had a mountain to climb as Bury extended their lead through ex-Pools striker Daniel Nardiello.
Richard Hinds’ 75th-minute strike made it 3-0.
Afterwards Cooper stressed Pools enjoyed more of the possession (58 per cent), created more chances, 14 (of which five were on target) and more corners, an incredible 20 compared to Bury’s one.
The only statistic that matters though is the final scoreline and Bury scored from three of their four attempts.
The defeat brought an end to Pools’ five-match unbeaten run and a halt to their play-off push but it also highlighted, once again, the need for fresh blood at the Clarence Road-club.
For the most part, Cooper’s fledgling young players have been very good but they need a little help and beyond the regular 18-players that make up the match day squad there isn’t much in the way of depth.
Pools have been heavily relying on Luke James and while the 19-year-old has repaid that with 10 goals so far, he can’t do it all alone and a new striker must be seen as a necessity during the transfer window.
Indeed the Amble-born striker hasn’t scored since the 2-0 home win over Northampton Town back in mid-November and despite several impressive displays he could do with more support.
Cooper, working within a tight budget, knows he needs to “freshen things up” and Pools fans would probably trust him to get it right, given the way his signings have worked out so far.
So fans wait with baited breath to see who walks in through the entrance doors at Victoria Park.
Speaking yesterday, Cooper admitted it felt like a “smack around the chops” for his young side, which had Andy Monkhouse restored in place of Nialle Rodney after serving his one-game suspension.
Cooper and assistant Craig Hignett have built a team that likes to play fast-paced, attractive football yet Pools were dumbstruck after 12 minutes and had no answer.
Another former Pools player, Tommy Miller, was dictating play in the opening stages for David Flitcroft’s Bury.
The Shakers opened the scoring in the fifth minute courtesy of a speculative 25-yard shot from Mayor, who caught Scott Flinders off guard with the pace as it whistled past him.
The stopper too slow to react as the ball bounced off his hand and into the roof of the net.
It was a bad mistake but it got worse for Cooper’s side seven minutes later.
Bury went on the counter attack and the ball broke to Nardiello who – for the second time in five weeks after their 1-0 win at Gigg Lane in November – beat Flinders with a curling effort into the net to give the away side what already looked like an unassailable 2-0 lead.
Pools were reeling and in the 14th minute it could have been 3-0 but Miller’s curling free-kick was punched away by Flinders.
The home side were struggling to get into the game and it wasn’t until the 36th minute when Brian “The Beast” Jensen was called into action to deny Jack Baldwin’s shot following a dangerous Matty Dolan corner.
The Danish-born stopper then found himself back-peddling furiously to tip a deflected James Poole shot over the bar as Pools finally began to build some pressure.
Sadly, it was too little, too late.
Many fans expressed surprise there weren’t any substitutions at the break, with the midfield four of Jonathan Franks, Brad Walker, Dolan and Monkhouse, in particular, failing to have an impact.
But Pools did start the second period brightly and Poole had two good chances within five minutes but his header was deflected wide before shooting wide of Jensen’s post.
Stubbon Bury could then have made it 3-0 but Mayor’s effort clipped the outside of the post.
Then, James was unable to take advantage of Jensen being stranded when the ball fell to him as his controlled volley was deflected wide and it was turning into one of those days for Pools.
Cooper said afterwards they wouldn’t have scored if they’d played into next week and a moment in the 69th minute epitomised Pools’ day.
Full-back Neil Austin found room to cross but the ball evaded Monkhouse, James and Poole in the box and drifted harmlessly wide of the target.
Pools were momentarily in danger of losing their discipline and after Dolan had entered the book, Burgess followed moments later for a blatant hand-ball.
From the resulting Chris Sedgwick free-kick, the ball fell to Hinds, who calmly side-footed the ball home to make it 3-0.
Game over with 15 minutes left to play and only then did Cooper move to make a triple substitution.
While Darren Holden, Antony Sweeney and Nialle Rodney did bring a fresh energy it was too late to make a difference.
Despite a flurry of late chances – including a golden opportunity for Sweeney – the game drifted towards a comfortable win for Bury, who had well and truly shaken Pools.
Cooper’s men will now look to re-start 2014 when Rochdale visit later this month.
Hartlepool United (4-4-1-1): Flinders, Austin (C) (Holden, 78), Duckworth, Baldwin, Burgess, Dolan, Walker, Franks, Monkhouse (Rodney, 78), Poole (Sweeney, 78), James.
Subs Not Used: Rafferty, Collins, Walton, Hawkins.
Booked: Baldwin, Dolan, Burgess.
Bury (4-4-2): Jensen, Hinds, Cameron, Procter, Miller, Forrester (Harrad, 71), Sedgwick, Mayor (Walker, 89), Nardiello (Jones, 62), Burke, Vesli.
Subs Not Used: Roberts, Grimes, Holden, Charles-Cook.
Booked: Cameron, Sedgwick.
Goals: Mayor (5), Nardiello (12), Hinds (75).
Referee: Andy Haines (Tyne & Wear)
Attendance: 3,529 (Bury 228)
Scott Flinders: 6. Disappointing afternoon for Flinders who conceded three and was at fault for the first, the pace of the ball caught him out. Kicking, at times, was suspect too. One to forget.
Neil Austin: 6. Defence was caught flat footed for the second goal, which came from Austin’s side. Not the greatest of games for the stand-in captain who was subbed.
Michael Duckworth: 7. Didn’t do too much wrong defensively but didn’t get forward as much as in the past two matches at Chesterfield and Morecambe. Solid enough though.
Christian Burgess: 6. Needlessly booked for a handball which led to Bury’s third goal. Along with the rest of defence will be keen to wipe game from memory.
Jack Baldwin: 6. Won several big headers in the air but the two goals in the first 12 minutes knocked the stuffing out of Pools. Also booked.
Matty Dolan: 6. Along with Franks delivered a total of 20 corners. Many of them dangerous but wasted by the Pools attackers. Recovered after a poor start.
Bradley Walker: 5. Overall it was a disappointing afternoon for the 17-year-old but credit to him he kept going, kept his head up and had a couple of chances near the end but came to nothing. Would have been a different game had he scored in second minute.
Andy Monkhouse: 5. Back in the side in place of Nialle Rodney but produced a disappointing display. Should have got at the full-backs more.
Jonathan Franks: 6. Barely touched the ball in the first half but improved in the second period. Whipped in several corners but weren’t taken advantage of.
James Poole: 7. MOM. Subbed in the second half but for much of the game looked like Pools’ most dangerous player, linked up well with midfield and always quick to turn looking to get on the attack. Not as impressive as away to Chesterfield and Morecambe but good performance none the less.
Luke James: 6. Despite the best efforts of Poole to drive the play forward their wasn’t enough supply to James, who struggled to make an impact in the game but worked hard.
Antony Sweeney: 6. Game was already over by the time the three subs came on. Had a chance to score but Jensen spread himself well.
Nialle Rodney: 6. Looked lively when he came on but should have hit the target with a header near the death.
Darren Holden. 6. Didn’t have much chance to have an influence on the game.