CRIME figures in the Clarence Road area of Hartlepool rocketed last night after 11 men from Rotherham pulled off a gut-wrenching robbery.
At least Dick Turpin wore a mask, Steve Evans’ band of merry men didn’t even do Colin Cooper’s side that courtesy.
“We wuz robbed” – a classic headline and never more true than at Victoria Park as Cooper’s Hartlepool United were knocked out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy competition at the northern area quarter-final stage.
This was a game Pools, by far and away the better team, should never have lost.
Possession statistics show Pools had the lions share, there were 18 attempts on goal and 13 corners thrown in for good measure.
Sadly, those chances weren’t taken and the only statistic that really matters is the final score: Pools 1 Rotherham United 2.
But, if you delve a little deeper then you also see the League One side committed 18 fouls – compared to Pools’ six – while six of the Millers team were cautioned and entered the referee’s little black book.
That was down to the away side’s cynical attempts to control the tie through shirt pulling, time wasting and late challenges. You name it, they did it.
Referee Darren Drysdale didn’t help matters and there were several questionable and downright bizarre decisions and he was roundly booed off at half-time and booed back on again for the start of the second.
The referee later turned down two good penalty shouts for fouls on Andy Monkhouse and Luke James.
But it was the approach of Evans’ side which left a bitter taste in the mouth.
Afterwards, a dejected Colin Cooper refused to openly criticise Rotherham for their cynical and, at times, brutal style of play.
And, fair play to Cooper because not many manager’s would have been able to hold their tongue and talk about the opposition’s tactics with such respect.
He is right of course, there is more than one way to skin a cat, but thankfully the Pools management team have decided to go down a different route, one of attacking, free-flowing football.
Pools are a different team this season and compliments are coming thick and fast. Compliments of course don’t win you football matches but at least Cooper and Craig Hignett are trying to play attractive football. The equalising goal was a good example.
Top scorer James and Monkhouse performed a deft one-two on the edge of the penalty area before the winger coolly slotted the ball past the onrushing Adam Collin, who was otherwise excellent, time wasting aside.
Rotherham had earlier taken the lead in the ninth minute courtesy of a Tom Eaves goal.
A Michael Tidser corner was whipped in to the six-yard box and the powerful forward got ahead of Matty Dolan to head past Scott Flinders from close range.
Pools, unchanged from the FA Cup first round win over Notts County, had won their last four home matches and set about patiently creating chances against Rotherham, who had made five changes.
The equaliser almost came in the 17th minute courtesy of Monkhouse’s looping header from a deep Simon Walton corner but his effort was cleared off the line.
The lively James Poole then went close but the onrushing Collin managed to get a strong hand to his poked effort while Jack Baldwin then rocketed a volley over the bar after connecting too well with Dolan’s free-kick.
The pressure was starting to build and the equaliser did eventually come in the 24th minute courtesy of former Rotherham United midfielder Monkhouse, who ran towards the away fans pointing to the name on the back of his shirt.
It was the winger’s fourth of the season and 50th goal for Pools but he should have also had another two to his name.
Right-back Michael Duckworth also scuffed a shot, Poole’s delightful dipping curler floated just over the bar while James should have scored but Collin got enough on the ball to see it behind for a corner.
All the pressure, possession and creativity was coming from Pools yet they fell behind again to a sucker punch in the 44th minute. Totally against the run of play, a hopeful Lee Frecklington shot hit Kieran Agard and wrong-footed Flinders to give them a half-time lead.
After the break, Baldwin should have equalised but he failed to connect properly with a free header from 10-yards out.
Then in the 59th minute came the first penalty shout, Monkhouse brought down by Pablo Mills but despite cries for a penalty, Drysdale waved it away.
Evans made three substitutions as he looked to stem the assault from the Pools forwards, while the players on the pitch were doing their utmost to disrupt Pools’ flow.
Chief time waster was Collin but there were several others alongside a few crunching tackles on Cooper’s players, who were putting in arguably their best shift of the season.
Walton saw his 75th minute free-kick whistle inches wide of the post and away for another delayed goal kick while Millers substitute Alex Revell did have the ball in the net in the 86th minute but he had already been ruled offside.
Meanwhile, fresh legs in the shape of Antony Sweeney, Bradley Walker and Jordan Richards were brought on and three more good chances created.
Austin forced the keeper into a strong save, Baldwin hit the post with a header and then James was barged to the floor in the fourth minute of stoppage as the game reached a dramatic climax but again the penalty shouts were dismissed.
Sadly for the Pools camp, it was the gang of Rotherham bandits that managed to hold on for the most jammiest of wins.