HARTLEPOOL United’s miserable season continued as they exited the Johnstone Paint Trophy following a penalty-shootout defeat to League Two Bradford City.
After a goalless 90 minutes, the second-round tie went straight to penalty kicks where Evan Horwood’s miss was to prove fatal for the hosts.
It means Pools are now second bottom of League One and out of both the League Cup and Football League trophy with the season still just 12 games old.
Neale Cooper had handed a debut to Middlesbrough loanee Charlie Wyke for the visit of the Bantams and recalled Simon Walton and Ritchie Humphreys to the centre of midfield.
City were first to show and when Garry Thompson flashed a low ball across goal only the fingertips of Scott Flinders took it clear from the toe of James Hanson, denying the striker a routine tap-in.
And it was the visitors who enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges, Pools’ sole sight at goal coming when Walton volleyed into a crowd of bodies inside the six-yard area.
It took until the 26th minute for the hosts to truly spark into life and Wyke, swapping passes with Ryan Noble, saw a measured curler palmed around the far post by the airborne Jon McLaughlin.
Noble himself then took aim in first-half stoppage time but McLaughlin again intervened, brushing the goal-bound blast over the crossbar.
The second period began in much the same subdued manner which had characterised the first and it wasn’t until the 56th minute that either side threatened, former Pools midfielder Ritchie Jones seeing a close-range belt helped over the crossbar by the strong palms of Flinders.
Alan Connell had presented Jones with that opening and the forward was again the creator when his far-post dink was nodded wide by Hanson, who should have scored, just after the hour mark.
Wyke was Pools’ best bet for a goal and he was unlucky when, on 68 minutes, he slid to get on the end of Tony Sweeney’s throughball only for McLaughlin to repel his eight-yard hook.
It was Sweeney who was next to threaten the Bantams target but a well-placed Andrew Davies kept the game goalless when he headed the substitute’s volley from the goal-line.
But the closest either side came to breaking the deadlock was when Ricky Ravenhill’s header bounced off the crossbar with Flinders beaten on 86 minutes, the skipper having connected with Connell’s centre.
And so to penalties where misses from Jon Franks, Ryan Noble and, crucially, Horwood, saw Cooper’s boys go down to a 3-2 defeat.