Was EFL Trophy defeat to Rotherham United a catalyst for Hartlepool United's downturn in form

Although we are some three weeks removed from the end of the season, the head scratching surrounding Hartlepool United’s drop off in form may well continue all summer.

By Joe Ramage
Wednesday, 25th May 2022, 6:00 am

Despite comfortably securing their Football League status, Pools went on a nine game winless run to end the season and won just one of their last 12 fixtures in total.

A freak run of injuries and players heading out of contract in the summer were undoubtedly major factors in the drop off in form, but just how significant a catalyst was that EFL Trophy semi-final defeat to Rotherham United?

Pools arrived at the Suit Direct Stadium that evening early in March in a rich vein of form having won five of their last seven before going toe-to-toe with the then League One leaders.

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Luke Molyneux missed his penalty as Hartlepool United were beaten in the EFL Trophy semi-final by Rotherham United. Picture by Martin Swinney

And Pools, who had upset the odds multiple times prior to that night, took the game to the Millers by forcing a penalty shootout after a thrilling 2-2 draw in front of a memorable Suit Direct Stadium crowd.

Losing a penalty shootout is always difficult, but when you are on the brink of your first ever Wembley appearance it is even harder to stomach.

Mentally, it must have been crushing for Pools.

“I don’t think the physical aspect of it was too bad but emotionally and mentally were probably bigger aspects to it,” said Pools caretaker manager Michael Nelson.

“We spoke about it in-depth about the biggest game of the season. I think the biggest game of the season was Barrow.

“After losing at Crystal Palace after all the hype and the positivity that went around the fundraising for Gemma from Crystal Palace which just snowballed. That Barrow game was massive in terms of reacting after the Crystal Palace game, especially after going a goal down as well.

“And I just think maybe the Rotherham one and getting safe just subconsciously maybe a little bit of ‘job done’ crept in without actually thinking that from the lads.

“Maybe subconsciously taking their foot off the gas a little bit and again that’s a learning curve for the players themselves and for the staff and the club as well and that’s where sometimes you need to recruit characters.”