PLAYER-COACH Sam Collins will be looking to get a full 90 minutes from his reserve side after Hartlepool United experienced a frustrating afternoon at Doncaster.
Pools went down 3-1 to Rovers in the proverbial game of two halves at Cantley Park.
The team, under the guidance of Collins for the third time, were not at the races in the first half, at the end of which they trailed 3-0.
But there was a marked improvement after the break when they pulled one back through sub Jonny Wright and created several other chances.
“We were poor in the first half,” admitted Collins, who was assisted on the sideline by head of youth John Hewitson.
“We didn’t play anything like the way we have over the last few weeks.
“I think some of the players may have paid a little bit too much respect to Rovers.
“Doncaster had a few first teamers playing and if you give good lads an opportunity to play they will pick you off.
“We made a few changes at half-time and we did a lot better in the second half.
“We scored one but created five or six good chances and, in all honesty, we’ve come away really disappointed not to get anything from the game.
“I could not fault the lads in the second half, we had a really good go.”
Pools actually came close to going in front when Jordan Richards was just off-target with a free-kick.
But that was as good as it got for Pools in the opening 45 minutes.
Pools fell behind when they failed to clear their lines and midfielder John Petersen fired past Andy Rafferty.
The Pools keeper had no chance five minutes later when first-team man Marc De Val, coming back to fitness after an injury in pre-season, netted with a stunning free-kick into the top corner.
Another leading Rovers figure, Billy Paynter made it three, finishing cleverly after good work by Kyle Bennett.
Collins made two changes at the interval, bringing on young prospects Connor Smith and Jonny Wright.
It seemed to liven up the Pools second string and they reeled off a series of opportunities.
Brad Walker hit the bar after Jonathan Franks had saw his effort saved.
Franks hit another opening over the bar while first-team skipper Antony Sweeney failed to convert a couple of half-chances.
Smith brought a good save from the keeper from a long-range free-kick. But Pools were finally rewarded for their new attacking spark and it was fellow sub Wright who got the goal.
The central midfielder, feeling his way back into action after a long injury lay-off, got away from his marker at a corner to net with a calm finish into the corner from close range.
Nialle Rodney, who worked tirelessly up front, went narrowly wide and was also denied by the keeper as Pools fought until the end, but Rovers ended 3-1 winners.
Sweeney got through a full 90 minutes which will have encouraged watching manager Colin Cooper.
Collins said the 30-year-old had played well as the second-most advanced player behind Rodney.
“Sweens has been out for a while and it’s about him getting as much game-time as possible,” Collins told SportMail. “He was keen to play the full 90 and he gave a typical Sweens display.”
But the big plus for Pools from yesterday’s trip to South Yorkshire were the performances of Smith and Wright.
Collins added: “Jonny has been out injured for a couple of years and we’ve been looking to get him back involved.
“But we are not pushing him too much, we’re being really careful.
“He played really well and got a goal.
“Young Connor is only a first-year scholar and he did really well too. He played left-midfield and came inside and hit some nice stuff off his right foot.”
Collins hopes Pools can start as they finished when they travel to Barnsley on Monday afternoon.
“The reserve league programme is quite spread out so we are trying to get more fixtures,” he explained.
“It’s important for the lads to play all the time instead of just every other week or so.”
Pools: Rafferty, Hawkins, Richards, Rowbotham, Holden, Franks, Walker, Sweeney, Boagey (Wright 46), Rodney, Rutherford (Smith 46).