Tranmere Rovers 1-1 Hartlepool United: Pools pegged back by second half penalty

Callum Cooke scored on his return to the Hartlepool United side against Tranmere Rovers. (Photo: Chris Donnelly | MI News)Callum Cooke scored on his return to the Hartlepool United side against Tranmere Rovers. (Photo: Chris Donnelly | MI News)
Callum Cooke scored on his return to the Hartlepool United side against Tranmere Rovers. (Photo: Chris Donnelly | MI News)
Hartlepool United earned their second point under John Askey after Callum Cooke’s first half goal was cancelled out by Josh Hawkes’ penalty.

Cooke was making his first appearance in two months and opened the scoring just before half-time when finding himself unmarked in the area to power beyond Joe Murphy.

But Askey was unable to claim his first three points as Tranmere levelled through Hawkes who converted from the penalty spot as Pools were able to edge another point away from the bottom two.

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Prenton Park holds fond memories for Hartlepool supporters for it was where Ritchie Humphreys struck the decisive spot-kick for Pools following a dramatic League One play-off semi-final second leg 18 years ago.

Humphreys converted to seal a 6-5 win on penalties for Hartlepool to book their spot at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium against Sheffield Wednesday and although they narrowly missed out on promotion that day, the journey and the memories forged on the Wirral will live long.

And their trips to Prenton Park since have been encouraging - with just three defeats in 10 since.

But in the here and now, Hartlepool were in desperate need of that kind of form continuing with their Football League status at risk.

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Tranmere had done Hartlepool a huge favour in midweek when overcoming relegation rivals Crawley Town, with the onus now on Pools to make it count.

Having enjoyed his first full week with the club Askey put his stamp on things by dropping captain Nicky Featherstone to the bench with midfielder Cooke recalled to the starting line-up after two months out with an ankle injury.

Cooke had not featured since the FA Cup third round defeat to Stoke City in January but partnered Mohamad Sylla and Dan Kemp in midfield.

Cooke wasn’t the only one making his return as Euan Murray, also missing since that 3-0 defeat to Stoke, was back in the heart of defence with Peter Hartley missing through concussion protocol.

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Askey was boosted with the return of Jamie Sterry following his three match ban for a red card picked up against Crewe Alexandra but he was still unable to call upon Josh Umerah - the 13-goal striker struggling with a knee injury missing back-to-back games for Askey.

Brad Walker, Hawkes and Harvey Saunders represented familiar faces to Hartlepool in the Tranmere line-up - Saunders might have been lining up for the visitors at Prenton Park before snubbing a move to the Suit Direct Stadium in January.

And it was Saunders who should have opened the scoring after a fairly uneventful opening 10 minutes.

Jordan Turnbull was able to bypass the Hartlepool midfield as his ball from the back found Chris Merrie who sent a first time ball over the top of the defence for Saunders to run onto but with the goal at his mercy, the man signed from Bristol Rovers fluffed his attempt at goal as Jakub Stolarczyk gathered with ease.

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That direct ball did give Pools some issues during the first half with Taylor Foran, in particular, struggling to get to grips with some of Saunders’ and Hawkes’ movement.

Despite his excellent set pieces since his arrival, Dan Kemp was ushered off of Hartlepool’s first corner for Cooke who picked out Connor Jennings but his glance towards goal wasn’t troubling Murphy in goal.

A ball over the top found Hawkes getting the better of Sterry with the former Pools man trying his luck from the angle only for Stolarczyk to beat away.

Pools started to edge into a close contest as Jennings picked up a bouncing ball but was unable to threaten Murphy before Sylla did bring the Tranmere goalkeeper into action with a fine save.

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Having worked things well on the right, Sylla found himself in space some 25-yards from goal and took aim with his left foot, sending a dipping effort on target which Murphy backpedalled to push over the bar.

And Hartlepool’s encouraging finish to the half was rewarded when taking the lead.

Kemp, who had struggled to really get himself involved, picked up a pocket of space around 25 yards from goal before clipping a lovely ball into the path of Cooke who had timed his run from midfield to perfection before keeping his composure to power home.

Hartlepool might have doubled their lead from the restart when Jennings met a long ball forward to sting the palms of Murphy with Sylla then also finding the arms of the goalkeeper from the eventual follow-up.

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But a frantic finish to the half wasn’t done there as Micky Mellon’s side should really have equalised when Saunders drifted along the edge of the area but, again, his strike lacked conviction before substitute Jake Burton capitalised on a mistake from Stolarczyk only for the Leicester City loanee to make amends quickly with a smart save.

Askey brought Joe Grey on at the break in place of Jack Hamilton and within 10 minutes of the restart he had a golden opportunity to extend the lead after meeting Sterry’s excellent cross from the right.

The youngster was unmarked and, perhaps, should have done better when firing over the bar.

The home side began pushing forward in the second half - Ethan Bristow spurning a good opportunity from Josh Dacres-Cogley’s cross.

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Tranmere were handed an opportunity to equalise however when referee James Oldham pointed to the spot after Saunders went down under pressure from two Hartlepool defenders in what, on first glance, seemed a contentious decision.

Nevertheless, it was Hawkes who stepped up and crashed his spot kick in off the underside of the bar to level the scores.

Hawkes then almost turned provider moments later when picking out Burton who headed wide from inside the area.

Pools had to dig deep and find some of that character they have shown in recent weeks with Edon Pruti and Featherstone both making important blocks late in the game.

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Pools had to survive a late scare as Saunders headed over before Kemp had the opportunity to win it for Pools but wasuable to divert Ferguson’s cross at goal.

It meant Askey had to settle for another point – but with results elsewhere it was a point which moves Hartlepool three clear of the bottom two.

Tranmere Rovers XI: Murphy, Dacres-Cogley, Davies ©, Turnbull, Bristow, Hawkes, Hendry, Walker (Turner-Cooke ‘47), Merrie, Lewis (Burton ‘16), Saunders

Subs: Hewelt, O’Connor, Jameson, Chalmers, Mumbongo

Hartlepool United XI: Stolarczk, Sterry, Foran, Murray (Dolan ‘72), Pruti, Ferguson ©, Sylla, Cooke (Featherstone ‘63), Kemp, Jennings, Hamilton (Grey ‘45)

Subs: Killip, Finney, McDonald, Clarke

Referee: James Oldham