Bristol Rovers 2-0 Hartlepool United: The key talking points as Graeme Lee's side are made to rue missed opportunities at the Memorial Stadium

Hartlepool United suffered a demoralising defeat at the Memorial Stadium as Bristol Rovers scored twice in the closing stages to seal all three points.

By Joe Ramage
Sunday, 16th January 2022, 1:00 pm

Graeme Lee’s side dominated and created a number of clear opportunities but were made to rue those missed chances, first through Aaron Collins who powered home a loose ball from 12 yards before Antony Evans fizzed a wonderful freekick beyond Ben Killip deep into stoppage time.

Pools’ misery was compounded with a red card for Jamie Sterry who will now be forced to sit out the next few weeks.

And here, we look at some of the key talking points from a deflating afternoon in Bristol.

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Graeme Lee was left 'gutted' at Hartlepool United's defeat at Bristol Rovers. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

Setting the scene

After a week to revel in, Pools returned to League Two action with Lee hoping to see his side carry some of that momentum back into the league with just one win in nine heading into the game.

While Pools have performed heroically in the cup competitions, their league form has tailed off slightly over the last two months and although there remains no cause for immediate concern, the gap between Pools and the relegation zone, which stood at nine points ahead of the game at the Memorial Stadium, could diminish over the second half of the season.

On top of the difference in levels of performance between league and cup football for Pools is the alarming away form this season.

Marcus Carver gave a good account of himself on his Hartlepool United debut. Mark Fletcher | MI News & Sport

Pools remain bottom of the away form guide with just four points on their travels heading into a week against three teams below them in the table, two of them away from the Suit Direct Stadium at Bristol and with Tuesday’s trip to Carlisle United.

Team news

The main talking point at the Memorial Stadium was whether or not new signing Marcus Carver would be handed a first start in a Hartlepool shirt.

With the 28-year-old arriving from non-league, Lee alluded to his fitness levels being slightly short of the rest of those in the Pools squad, but when the teamsheets came in Lee had put his faith in his new man.

Jamie Sterry was shown a straight red card in the defeat to Bristol Rovers. (Credit: Will Matthews | MI News)

Carver led the line alongside Luke Molyneux in what was the only change from the side who came from behind against Blackpool in the FA Cup seven days earlier.

Mark Cullen dropped to the bench which saw the omission of strikers Olufela Olomola and Mike Fondop - Lee revealing in the week that Fondop’s contract was set to expire with talks having taken place over the 28-year-old’s future.

Meanwhile Joey Barton made seven changes to his Gas side for their first League Two outing since December 11 due to several postponements.

Carver debut

All eyes were on Carver from the off as Pools fans caught a glimpse of their new striker.

And for the most part, the man signed from Southport impressed in his 67 minutes on the field.

Carver was straight into the action from an early corner forcing goalkeeper James Belshaw to fumble showing his physical presence in the penalty area.

And it was a presence felt right across the Bristol backline as Carver had run-ins with all three centre backs whether on the ground or in the air.

Carver was not afraid to try and rough his opponents up and was involved in a number of battles throughout the first half.

But aside from making a nuisance of himself to the Rovers defence, Carver exhibited elements of good play too, linking up well with Molyneux who was able to roam a little more freely as Carver’s foil.

The striker will have dreamed of getting one chance when being told he was starting in the team hotel and that chance came midway through the first half when Tom Crawford threaded a ball between the lines with Carver beating the offside trap only to snatch at his chance and drag wide.

While he will want that chance back, Carver put in a solid shift in his first appearance for the club and there were plenty of encouraging signs for Pools to build on with their new man.

Missed opportunities

Carver was guilty of one, but Pools missed a number of good opportunities throughout the game to ensure they didn’t leave empty handed.

Lee hinted after the game his side had enough chances to ‘win three or four games’ and you can understand his frustration.

Carver’s missed chance was added to by Molyneux who had three decent openings across the game.

Gavan Holohan had a penalty appeal turned down and also saw his header cleared from the line while substitute Cullen had the best opportunity of the game 10 minutes from time when latching onto Molyneux’s cross only for Belshaw to deny him.

On another day Pools might have been rewarded heavily for their endeavours.

The positive to take is that they are creating the chances. While they are creating the chances there is hope their fortunes will turn.

Tough to take

Nevertheless, several missed opportunities does not make defeat any easier to take, and this one will have hurt Pools.

It will have been a long ride home from the South West for Pools to sit and mull over how they contrived to lose a game they dominated so much.

Credit must go to Collins and Evans for two clinical finishes late in the game, but Pools should have been out of sight.

This one will sting for some time but Pools must lick their wounds quickly with another game on the road on Tuesday at Brunton Park.

Sterry suspension

To add insult to injury, Lee will also now be missing fullback Sterry following his second red card of the season.

Sterry was caught out by Collins deep into stoppage time and there was a coming together with the Pirates forward and, unfortunately for Sterry, he gave referee Carl Brook a decision to make.

Sterry had been enjoying a solid game both in attack and defence but will now be forced to sit out a number of games.

Bristol Rovers XI: Belshaw, Grant, Kilgour, Collins, Nicholson (Anderton ‘90), Coutts ©, Taylor, Anderson (Whelan ‘90), Evans, Harries, Loft (Pitman ‘90)

Subs: Jaakkola, Connolly, Thomas, Clarke

Hartlepool United XI: Killip, Sterry, Byrne, Liddle (Hull ‘90), Odusina, Ferguson, Featherstone ©, Crawford (Grey ‘88), Holohan, Molyneux, Carver (Cullen ‘67)

Subs: Boyes, Ogle, Shelton, Daly

Yellow card - Harries (28), Liddle (40), Evans (60) Ferguson (64) Odusina (70), Byrne (80)

Red card - Sterry (90)

Referee - Carl Brook

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