Hartlepool United 1-3 Forest Green Rovers verdict: League Two woes continue for 10 man Pools as league leaders inflict third straight defeat
Hartlepool United suffered back to back home defeats for the first time since December 2020 as they were beaten 3-1 by Forest Green Rovers at The Suit Direct Stadium.
The League Two leaders gave Pools a first half lesson with goals from Jordan Moore-Taylor, Jamille Matt and Matthew Stevens seeing them race into a three goal lead by half-time.
Nicky Featherstone pulled a goal back from the penalty spot with 10-minutes remaining but it proved to be too little too late as Jamie Sterry was shown a straight red card for violent conduct in the closing stages.
The result leaves Pools 12th in the table as they continue to search for Dave Challinor’s permanent managerial replacement.
Setting the scene
Going into the first ever competitive meeting between the sides, Forest Green sat eight points ahead of 10th placed Pools with a game in hand.
Hartlepool went into the game confident but tired following a resolute 1-0 victory at League One Wycombe Wanderers in the FA Cup on Tuesday night.
But it had a knock-on effect on the side’s training schedule as they trained fully just once at Maiden Castle in the week building up to Saturday’s match.
While Pools’ cup exploits boosted their overall form heading into the game, they had lost their last two League Two outings. Last week, they suffered their first home defeat of the league season after conceding in stoppage time against Newport County.
It was Forest Green’s first taste of league action this month as they looked to extend their lead at the top of the League Two table.
As expected, interim manager Antony Sweeney kept the side consistent and unchanged from the Wycombe match with the hope of it producing a similar level of performance.
Two fewer names allowed on the bench saw Timi Odusina and Martin Smith drop out of the matchday squad.
Gavan Holohan returned to training on Friday but remained sidelined for the match along with longer-term absentees Jordan Cook and Tyler Burey.
Stoke City loanees Will Goodwin and Eddy Jones weren’t involved after playing for their parent club’s under-23s side on Friday. Both started the match as Stoke were beaten 3-0 at Fulham.
An early blow
Forest Green started on the front foot as Ben Stevenson glided from midfield to the edge of the Pools box before trying to place the ball into the bottom left corner of the goal with just three minutes on the clock. Ben Killip was equal to the effort as he parried it away from goal, but a corner soon followed.
Stevenson’s delivery to the front post was met by Moore-Taylor to give the visitors an early lead after four minutes.
Hartlepool were able to produce some form of response as they quickly started to move the ball and get bodies forward. Luke Molyneux had a great chance to equalise after the ball fell nicely for a close range header but Stevenson was there to head the chance over.
At the other end, Pools were struggling to contain Forest Green’s movement and pressure as they were forced into mistakes.
Bad to worse
Kane Wilson should have made it 2-0 after busting through on goal only to shoot wide.
But it would be 2-0 before the half-hour mark as Matt volleyed the ball into the net from 10-yards after Stevens’ initial effort rebounded back off the crossbar.
Another ‘Leyton Orient’ situation seemed to be unfolding as Pools couldn’t contain their opponents, who pushed to extend their lead further.
Killip made a good stop to deny Jack Aitchison, but on the stroke of half-time, the visitors had the game wrapped up.
Stevens had time and space to control the ball inside the Hartlepool area, turn and find the bottom left corner via the post to make it 3-0.
Victoria Park had been such a positive place on so many occasions throughout 2021 but this was not one of them.
Forest Green looked just like the league leaders they were as they continually pressed Pools and caused problems.
Meanwhile, Sweeney’s side were giving their opponents too much respect as they looked lethargic and sloppy. The knock on impact from a midweek trip to Wycombe seemed evident.
Sweeney made two changes at half-time but he could have made 11 had he been allowed. Mark Shelton and Mark Cullen made way for Tom Crawford and Fela Olomola – two players brought in from the cold.
Olomola hadn’t featured in a game since the goalless draw at Oldham Athletic back in September while this was Crawford’s first league appearance of the campaign.
The changes prompted a slight upturn for the hosts as Crawford fired over from the edge of the box with the game finally starting to be played in Forest Green’s half of the pitch.
Olomola got involved and showed a few neat touches but almost every one came at least 30-yards from goal.
While Pools showed a marked improvement in the second half, there was a notable lack of urgency as Forest Green were happy to sit on their comfortable lead and see the game out.
The introduction of teenager Joe Grey with 11-minutes remaining made an instant impact for Pools as the forward won a penalty within seconds of coming on.
Nicky Featherstone stepped up and calmly dispatched his second spot kick of the campaign to give Pools a late glimmer of hope with 10-minutes of normal time remaining.
The home crowd sensed an opportunity as Pools finally started to gather some attacking momentum. But that was stopped in its tracks when Sterry hit out during a confrontation with Moore-Taylor and was shown a straight red card.
A bad afternoon for Pools got just that bit worse at the end as the defender will now needlessly miss the next three matches due to suspension.
The full-time whistle confirmed a third straight defeat for Pools in League Two with 10 goals conceded in that time.