Pools, managed by assistant boss Michael Nelson in place of Graeme Lee who tested positive for COVID-19, were in a commanding position at the break after Bryn Morris’ first goal for the club.
Morris latched onto the end of Joe White’s teasing cross to hammer home as Pools dictated play for much of the opening 45 minutes.
But that was as good as it got for the travelling 646 supporters as their side succumbed to the intense pressure of Rochdale in the second half.
After several warning signs, Jimmy Keohane levelled the scores just after the hour when he slid in at the back post to convert Max Clark’s low cross.
Clark, perhaps unfortunately, then saw a goal ruled out moments later for an offside as the home side continued to keep Pools on the back foot.
And just as it appeared as though they would escape with a point, Pools allowed Rochdale captain Eoghan O’Connell the freedom of the Crown Oil Arena before firing beyond Ben Killip deep into stoppage time.
And here we look at some of the key talking points from Pools’ late defeat.
Graeme Lee absence
Naturally, it was a surprise to learn of Lee’s condition late on Monday morning and that he would miss the trip to Rochdale.
Lee was said to be in good spirits, at least prior to the full-time whistle at the Crown Oil Arena, and the hope is he will be able to return to his duties by the end of the week.
The well wishes, of course, go out to Lee in the hope of a speedy recovery from the virus, but the impact of his absence did not seem to affect Pools.
As Nelson stated post-match, these players have played enough games under Lee, and spent enough hours with him on the training ground, to understand what is required of them which made the transition for Nelson a relatively comfortable one.
But while there was one less voice, Pools went about their business admirably in the first half exhibiting, arguably, one of their finer displays of the season.
Rochdale boss Robbie Stockdale described his team’s first half performance as ‘shocking’ but for that you must also give Pools credit.
Everything Lee has wanted from his players since the Salford City defeat at the beginning of the month was on display. They were efficient, there was an urgency and an intensity and there was a purpose to their play.
Morris and White, along with forward Marcus Carver and defender David Ferguson in particular, were key in contributing towards several turnovers and forcing the home side into a number of mistakes.
In turn, Pools were slick and crisp in their passing as shown with the opening goal where the ball was worked out to the right before Morris powered home from an excellent cross by White.
And, for the most part, Pools kept their foot on the accelerator in the first half to prove that whichever messages they had been getting either from Nelson and Antony Sweeney in the dressing room, or by Lee from the laptop screen, were working.
A game of two halves
For all the good Pools demonstrated in the first half, though, they lacked after the break.
Credit, too, should go to Rochdale for that. Stockdale brought on Abraham Odoh for Corey O’Keeffe and tweaked the positioning of O’Connell and it was a change which Pools struggled to cope with.
Odoh was direct in his running at the Pools defence while O’Connell was able to bring the ball out from deep as he became second to only Stephen Dooley for touches in the game.
Suddenly there was a composure to the home side where in the first half they had been erratic.
Pools failed to adapt and very quickly the game got on top of them as they were unable to get out of their own half for much of the second 45 minutes.
Wonder strike or defensive woe
There can be no denying O’Connell’s stoppage time strike was one worthy of winning any match, but from a Pools perspective it’s a goal which is sure to have had Lee tearing his hair out watching from home.
Inexplicably, O’Connell was allowed to carry the ball from midway inside his own half, right through the centre of the pitch, to the edge of the Pools penalty area, almost unchallenged, before executing a brilliant finish from distance.
O’Connell easily shrugged off Isaac Fletcher before skipping by a trailing leg of Mark Shelton. Neither Gary Liddle nor Neill Byrne stepped out to confront him as he advanced forward, with Jake Hull more occupied with Odoh, as the Dale captain just kept going and going.
Nelson spoke after the game how the players had been warned about the threat of O’Connell stepping out from the back but the message was clearly unheeded on this occasion and it is one that will be looked back upon with some vehement when Lee returns to Pools’ Maiden Castle training base.
The form guide
There can be no escaping it, Pools’ form has completely gone awry.
After such a positive February, where Lee’s side were towards the top of the form tables, they now find themselves only propped up by relegated Scunthorpe United.
Pools have won just one of their last nine as the end of season syndrome label undoubtedly gets thrown into conversations.
While the achievements this year have been of great success, the fizzling out process over recent weeks will undoubtedly put a dampener on things.
Nelson challenged the players to put on a performance for supporters over the remaining three games of the season, who are keen not to end the season this way, but there can be no question there are a number of tired bodies, and minds, in the dressing room.