NEALE Cooper’s second reign as manager of Hartlepool United got off to a losing start as his men were outclassed at Sheffield United.
The Scot was in the dugout for the first time since his return to the club this week, but it was an unhappy start as Danny Wilson’s Blades bossed proceedings from the off.
Pools were forced into one change before the game with James Poole (hamstring) missing out and Ritchie Humphreys coming in.
But it was a nervy start from the visitors and Scott Flinders miscued an attempted clearance allowing Ched Evans to burst through on seven minutes.
The keeper, though, managed to recover the situation as he bravely headed to safety from just outside the area.
But Pools weren’t as lucky on 11 minutes when, after Evans was thwarted by a sliding Peter Hartley challenge, Ryan Flynn seized on the loose ball before stepping away from a lacklustre Neil Austin tackle and drilling into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
Evans was the Blades’ tormentor in chief and, after Hartley had seen yellow for a rash challenge on the Welsh striker on 18 minutes, he picked himself up to shave the frame of Flinders’ goal with a curling free-kick for 25 yards.
The hosts were well on top and duly doubled their lead on 34 minutes, Flynn turning provider as he drove into the area before sweeping a cross onto the unmarked forehead of Chris Porter who guided home from two yards out.
It was three on 43 minutes when Lee Williamson drilled in low from the right and Evans, peeling free on the penalty spot, turned home first time, albeit with the help of a fortuitous bounce.
Cooper turned to two of his former players during the break in a bid to kickstart a sorry Pools, James Brown and Adam Boyd introduced at the expense of Jack Baldwin and Paul Murray.
Still, though, the hosts pressed and Porter should have done better when misfiring over the crossbar from eight yards after Evans had burned by Sam Collins before teeing up his strike partner.
Pools then lost skipper Collins to an ankle injury midway through the second half and the disruption following his removal almost immediately led to a fourth home goal.
Evans dribbled by Austin before smashing low across goal and the sliding Williamson was only a stud’s length away from poking home.
It was all too easy for Evans and he again manufactured space in the area before seeing a powerful blast palmed over by Flinders.
There was time for a late consolation as Hartley wriggled free of his man inside the area before blasting low beyond Steve Simonsen.
Cooper will now bid for a first win at home to Scunthorpe United on Monday.