Hartlepool United 0-3 Stoke City: Pools comfortably beaten as Championship side ease into round four of the FA Cup
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An unfortunate Euan Murray own goal set the tone of the game as Alex Neil’s side eased to victory with Jacob Brown doubling the lead going into half-time.
Keith Curle’s side were the architect's of their own downfall as Rollin Menayese followed his central defensive partner Murray in scoring in the wrong net soon after the restart to make it 3-0 with Stoke able to take their foot off the gas in the second half.
And a difficult afternoon for Hartlepool was compounded when star striker Josh Umerah was taken off injured and straight down the tunnel which will raise concerns over his fitness heading into a crucial run of league fixtures.
A third round tie with Stoke will certainly have rekindled fond memories for many Hartlepool supporters after the two sides met here at the same stage of the competition back in 2009.
And despite Hartlepool’s continued struggles in League Two, there will have been some hope and optimism for the 2023 version of a towering Michael Nelson header or a David Foley cracker.
In the hope to find that, Curle made just one change from the side who drew 3-3 against Harrogate Town on New Year’s Day as last season’s FA Cup third round hero against Blackpool, Joe Grey, was back on the bench for the returning Murray.
Murray had missed the previous two league games through illness but was back in the side as Curle reverted to a back five against the Championship Potters.
Reghan Tumilty continued at left wing-back with Brody Paterson not involved in the match day squad having been reunited with former manager Paul Hartley during Cove Rangers’ 6-0 defeat against Queen’s Park ahead of a suspected exit from the Suit Direct Stadium.
Paterson’s absence created space for academy star Max Storey who was one of four players from the club’s academy named on the bench alongside Louis Stephenson, Campbell Darcy and Joe Kitching.
But despite a return to a back five from Curle, his side almost found themselves behind inside six minutes as Hartlepool twice failed to deal with Josh Tymon’s cross, the second of which saw Tumilty make a mess of things at the back post, to allow ex-Pools midfielder Josh Laurent a sight of goal from six-yards but Ben Killip was able to spread himself and save well.
David Ferguson and Mohamad Sylla exchanged well on the left only for Ferguson’s cross to be cleared as we caught a glimpse of the pace Stoke possessed on the break.
Liam Delap, on loan from Manchester City, pinched the ball away from Murray and teed up Nick Powell but his cross was well gathered as Pools were given a warning.
Pools wouldn’t be as fortunate minutes later as Tymon was able to get the better of Menayese on the left of the area and drill a low cross in which Murray was unable to avoid slicing into the roof of his own net beyond Killip.
There was almost an instant reprieve for Hartlepool, however, as Mark Shelton curled in a fine cross from the right which was met by Jack Hamilton but the Scot glanced off target with Jack Bonhom struggling to cover over.
From then on though, the Championship side began to dictate things and enjoyed plenty of possession in the opening 45 minutes.
Pools were limited to any set pieces into the box which almost paid dividends when Umerah tried to scramble in Shelton’s long free kick in which Hamilton flicked on but Bonham was able to gather.
And it was Umerah who had Hartlepool’s only other real chance of note in the first half when turning on Sylla’s header and tried to catch Bonham out early but fired wide.
Tymon fired over as Pools were again unable to deal with a bouncing ball in the area before the Potters did get the lead their control of play warranted.
Tymon was again involved as he exchanged with Morgan Fox on the left before threading a ball through a static Hartlepool defence in which Brown had continued his run to meet ahead of Killip and, despite a tight angle, was able to roll into the far corner with Hartlepool’s defence watching.
It was a goal which knocked any stuffing out of Pools on the pitch and in the stands. At 1-0 there remained an opportunity but at 2-0 it felt a long way back.
And if 2-0 was a long way back, 3-0 rubber stamped Hartlepool’s exit from the competition four minutes after the restart.
Harrison Clarke found space deep on the right and his low cross was intercepted by Menayese ahead of Delap and into the bottom corner.
Substitute Grey tried to ignite something among the Suit Direct Stadium faithful when getting the better of Fox before firing well off target as Hartlepool’s misery continued when striker Umerah went down in the area.
Umerah was helped off and taken straight down the tunnel with concerns already over his fitness ahead of a crunch league meeting with bottom of the table GIllingham next week.
Alex Neil’s side should have added to their tally in the second half, first Laurent was off target when meeting Tymon’s cross before Killip did well to deny Delap when played through on goal from a quick free kick.
The Potters boss changed things and brought on former Newcastle United striker Dwight Gayle who might have done better with his first touch when steering a Tymon cross wide.
Brown was off target fro Clarke’s cross before Gayle continued his battle with Killip to get on the scoresheet, twice going close in the closing stages.
The priorities lie elsewhere for Pools, of course, but this was another difficult afternoon on home soil.