HARTLEPOOL United have crashed out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy after a 2-1 defeat to Sheffield United at Victoria Park.
It was a much-improved Pools but Jose Baxter opened the scoring for the away side in the 30th minute with a curling low effort into the corner of the net.
Spirited Pools fought back and equalised through right-back Michael Duckworth five minutes into the second half and he celebrated in some style.
Pools’ cup run came to an end at the second round stage in the 82nd minute when Jamal Campbell-Ryce cooly slotted home from inside the area past Scott Flinders.
It was the first match for Pools since former manager Colin Cooper handed in his notice within minutes of Saturday’s 3-0 defeat to Carlisle United.
Graham Kavanagh, who has held talks with the club over taking the managers seat on a short-term basis, was again in the stands at Victoria Park.
Caretaker bosses Sam Collins and Stephen Pears made four changes with Kieran Green handed his senior debut, while Dan Jones, Michael Woods, Lewis Hawkins also started.
Pools – who had been more positive than in previous matches – created a few half chances, with Woods heading over the bar, but it was the visitors that took the lead in the 30th minute.
Baxter showed quick feet on the edge of the area before curling a right-footed shot into the bottom right-hand corner of the net giving Flinders no chance.
Brobbel fired an effort just wide in the 38th minute after jinking his way into the box while Green had a well-stuck low shot saved before the break.
There had been pre-match talk of fans boycotting the match in protest against the owners but crowds are regularly low for JPT matches.
Those fans that did make the game witnessed the rarest of things five minutes into the second half – a Duckworth goal.
Sixteen months he has waited for his first professional goal and he celebrated his deflected strike from the edge of the area in style, with two sommersaults in front of the Town End.
Clough’s side should have re-taken the lead on the hour mark but somehow his forwards managed to miss three open goals in the same passage of play before Porter slashed his shot wide.
Wyke then headed over when it looked easier to score.
Pools were made to rue that miss in the 82nd minute as Campbell-Ryce put the Blades 2-1 ahead with a colly-struck low finish to end Pools’ JPT cup hopes.
Pools (4-3-3): Flinders (C), Duckworth, Harrison, Austin, Jones, Miller, Woods, Hawkins (Smith, 86), Green (Walker, 74) Brobbel, Wyke.
Subs Not Used: Holden, Franks, Richards.
Goal: Duckworth (50)
Sheffield United (4-4-2): Turner, Davies, Basham, McGahey, Harris, Campbell-Ryce, Reed, McGinn, De Girolamo (Murphy, 62), Porter (Collins, 84), Baxter (McNulty, 45).
Subs Not Used: Doyle, Willis.
Goal: Baxter (30) Campbell-Ryce (82)
Referee: Carl Boyeson (Yorkshire)
Attendance: 1,856 (Sheffield 361)