Roy Kelly's Analysis: Hartlepool must do better than this
Talk about after the Lord Mayor's Show!
Hartlepool United give as good as they got against champions-elect Northampton only to sink without trace against the Pirates.
Bristol Rovers gave Pools the proverbial going over at the Memorial Stadium and all the promise shown in the previous games under Craig Hignett had disappeared.
Matty Taylor was the assassin with a hat-trick in a match which could have finished something like 8-4.
If Pools are to avoid the drop, they cannot go from the sublime to the ridiculous like this again.
Craig Hignett admitted he had a few words in the dressing room afterwards, no surprise given some of the defending was out of the Billy Smart Circus handbook.
But the new boss will have to use some of his man-management skills to get his team up off the floor with another difficult awayday at Barnet to come on Saturday.
While 22nd-placed Pools have three games in hand on the two sides immediately above them, Yeovil and Stevenage, it’s fast becoming a three-way relegation scrap with Dagenham & Redbridge and York City who, thankfully, also conceded four last night.
Pools were not helped by a re-shuffle before the contest even got under way which cost them the services of their best and most influential defender.
Matthew Bates did not start after hurting his back in the warm-up, Scott Harrison joining Adam Jackson in the centre of defence.
Despite the pre-match hassles, Pools settled nicely and Carl Magnay sent over two early crosses into the home box.
But the early brightness soon darkened when Rovers took a 10th-minute lead.
Midfielder Billy Bodin picked out Matty Taylor who thumped a shot past Trevor Carson from outside the box.
The keeper may have been disappointed but it was a cracking strike high into the net from the striker.
Taylor was denied a second by an offside flag when he converted Lee Brown’s left-wing cross.
Pools were fortunate to be just one down but they got forward in the 21st minute and had their first shot, Brad Walker going wide past the keeper’s right post from outside the box.
While Pools looked calm in possession and were getting plenty of crosses in, especially from the right side, defensively they looked like conceding every time Rovers came forward.
And it was 2-0 on the half-hour. Harrison made a hash of what looked a routine punt forward by centre-half Mark McChrystal.
Rory Gaffney collected and got the better of Carson to tap the ball home.
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The Pools rearguard was breached again in the 38th minute. Liam Lawrence found Brown down the left and the full-back put over an inviting cross which Taylor nodded in from inside the six-yard box.
Pools were denied a goal back in the first minute of added time by the woodwork. Walker was tripped outside the box and the midfielder stepped up himself, his 25-yard set-piece coming back off the crossbar.
Paynter, following in, could not control the rebound.
Pools began the second half brightly and Walker headed straight at Mildenhall, though it would not have counted anyway as trhe flag was up for offside.
But Hignett’s side did respond with a fine goal seven minutes after the re-start.
Walker, Magnay and James combined cleverly outside the home box, Walker finding Paynter who buried his right-foot shot from 12 yards.
However, that chink of light was soon extinguished by that-man Taylor.
Walker lost the ball on edge of box, allowing Taylor to get in the box and his powerful left foot drive from a tight angle beat Carson in his left corner.
A hat-trick almost became four for the striker on the hour but Jackson blocked his piledriver with his head.
Hignett brought on Scott Fenwick for Nathan Thomas and the sub passed up a gilt-edged chance in the 68th minute.
Tireless frontmen Paynter and James combines, the diminute striker heading on the skipper’s cross but Fenwick could not connect unmarked at the far post.
To the credit of Pools, they kept coming forward and Walker hit the outside of keeper’s right post with super long-range strike.
There was a great save down to his right by Carson to deny Gaffney a second.
Such was Bristol’s hold on the game, and the points, they had the luxury of withdrawing Gaffney and Taylor and bringing on former Pools strikers Jermaine Easter and Ellis Harrison and they were dangerous in the latter stages.
Pools kept plugging away and Jake Gray had a shot blocked, Walker saw a free-kick saved and Magnay fired high over the bar.
But the night belonged to Taylor and Bristol’s boss Darrell Clarke who completed an aggregate 7-1 win over his former club.
Clarke is looking for his second successive promotion with the Gas while his old club need a second consecutive great escape.