EMBARRASSING. Woeful. Humiliating
Choose any word you like to describe Hartlepool United’s ‘performance’ at Northampton Town last night.
The Sixfields Stadium isn’t a happy hunting ground for Pools, who haven’t won away to Northampton since 1969.
None of the Pools players were even born then but there can’t have been many worse performances than last night over the past five decades.
Colin Cooper’s side were second best to everything, lacking in leaders, and when it mattered most failed to stop crosses into the box and then failed to defend them properly.
Four out of the five goals were totally avoidable.
It was a shambles at times and the whole team had a night to forget after what was a thoroughly miserable evening.
The 130 travelling supporters – a fantastic effort for a midweek match so far south – should be refunded or given a medal, one of the two.
What made it worse was that Pools had actually taken the lead, after just 46 seconds.
In-form on-loan Charlie Wyke got the goal with a cool, calm, composed finish underneath Jordan Archer to give the away side an unexpected early lead.
From then on in though it was carnage.
Northampton scored twice in eight minutes to take the lead and then Wyke was worryingly taken off with what looked like a serious head injury.
He lay stricken on the floor for several minutes, with both physios and paramedics attending to him.
After coming around he was taken to hospital for a check-over but was eventually allowed to get back on the team bus back north.
And that will not have been a happy journey home.
What was also frustrating and baffling in equal measures was that the defence had looked so solid in the previous two matches, recording clean sheets in the home matches with Shrewsbury and Tranmere.
They looked to have got over their early-season frailties but they came back with a vengeance last night.
What baffled supporters was why Cooper changed his defence, bringing back Stuart Parnaby in place of Jordan Richards who will, rightfully, feel hard done to.
Parnaby, back from injury, had a nightmare evening.
He gave away the penalty for Town to equalise and was beaten in the air for two of the other goals.
It will be no surprise if Richards is back in the side at Plymouth Argyle on Saturday, which has all of a sudden become a massive game.
Pools, who will be without Wyke after his concussion, cannot afford another performance like last night.
Northampton were full value for their five goals and it could have been even worse for Pools.
There was plenty for Cooper and the players to ponder on the long drive.
It had all started so well too, thanks to Wyke’s well-taken opener after 46 seconds.
He took full advantage of a delightful through-ball from Tommy Miller before picking his spot after a strong run towards goal.
It was a frantic start to the match and the early goal only seemed to awaken the home side and it wasn’t long before they were level.
Neil Austin lost out at left-back and the ball was cut across the penalty area by Marc Richards towards Kaid Mohamed, who was chopped down by Parnaby for a nailed-on spot-kick in the 12th minute.
Up stepped Richards to rifle home the penalty to the left of Flinders, who couldn’t quite reach it.
There was barely time to draw breath and Town took the lead eight minutes later.
The impressive Chris Hackett crossed from the right to the edge of the box and Mohamed this time turned goalscorer to drill the ball past Flinders.
Cooper admitted they couldn’t deal with the thorn that was Hackett, a real dangerman for Town who set up both goals in their win over Pools last season too.
Then came the lengthy stoppage in play after Wyke was poleaxed in the box after a collision with Zander Diamond.
There was no way Wyke could continue and on came Marlon Harewood in his place.
With 33 minutes gone, Pools almost snatched an equaliser, Harewood back heeled to Jack Compton but he flashed a shot inches wide of the right-hand post.
It was a great chance and they were made to pay moments later.
Hackett again was given too much time to chip a cross towards the back post where Mohamed got up above Parnaby to head in from a yard in the 35th minute.
It was all too easy and Pools went into the break 3-1 down.
Town started the second half strongly, looking to capitalise on their lead under the floodlights with Flinders forced into making two good saves, including one from Joel Byrom.
The pace of the game had settled, which suited the home side, but they eventually scored the crucial fourth goal in the 67th minute.
Hackett’s deep cross found Lawson D’Ath who beat Parnaby to the ball, took a touch before finishing low past Flinders from six-yards.
Again it was awful defending.
Thankfully Hackett was then subbed, his work was done for the night.
But in the 76th minute it was 5-1.
A smart move on the half-way line took Compton and Parnaby out of the game and the ball eventually fell to Richards who cut inside before curling a beauty past Flinders from 25-yards.
It was a fine finish but added salt to an already gaping Pools wound.
Ryan Brobbel tried his best to reinvigorate Pools but there was to be no further consolation goals.
Shell-shocked Pools needed someone to take the game by the scruff of the neck but they were lacking in leaders all over the park. There was a distinct lack of fight.
The manner of the defeat was similar to the recent 6-2 thrashing at Port Vale and last night could easily have been even worse.
Defeat left Pools wallowing in 21st, while Northampton climbed to fifth.
Worrying times indeed for Cooper & Co.
The pressure gauge has just cranked up another notch.