A DIFFICULT day for United at the other end of the country told the story of the Yellow season in 90 depressing minutes.
The Gulls enjoyed plenty of possession on a chilly day in Hartlepool and created chances to score, but a failure to hit the net was punished in ruthless fashion by the home side.
Jack Barmby notched the first on the half-hour and further strikes from Luke James and Marlon Harewood in the second half left United with a 3-0 defeat. On the balance of play, the final score was harsh but goals win matches.
United boss Chris Hargreaves made just one change to the side that drew 1-1 with Burton in midweek, with new loan signing Enoch Showunmi handed the central striker role. Conor Wilkinson dropped down to a space on the bench vacated by the injured Billy Bodin.
Hartlepool manager Colin Cooper made two changes from the team beaten 2-0 at Northampton last weekend, Andy Monkhouse came in for the injured Michael Duckworth in defence and Jordan Richards replaced Luke Williams in midfield.
A scrappy start to the game saw United enjoy the territorial superiority but the first chance of the game fell to Hartlepool, with James skipping into space and Aaron Downes made a terrific last-ditch challenge to solve the problem.
Left-back Darren Holden found room in the Yellow area moments later but the Gulls cleared long to Showunmi, who quickly displayed his impressive strength to relieve the early pressure.
United won their first corner of the afternoon when Kevin Nicholson’s deep cross to Elliot Benyon was deflected wide, but the home side defended the set-piece with ease. Hartlepool responded with a quick break, excellently repelled by a strong tackle from Krystian Pearce.
The Gulls came forward again on 15 minutes and super play down the flank from Anthony O’Connor saw the full-back burst into the box and unleash a powerful shot, which had too much juice for Scott Flinders to hold, but the goalkeeper did well to dive on the loose ball with Benyon lurking.
Five minutes later, a weak effort from James brought the first save of the day for Michael Poke, as the game settled into a pattern of two compact defensive units frustrating the forward players.
Shamir Goodwin attempted to spark some life with some excellent work on the wing but his cross was well cleared. It was the start of a period of decent possession from the Gulls but without ever really threatening the home defence.
Hartlepool responded with the opening goal of the game after the home side broke quickly to find space in the box for Barmby, and the man on loan from Manchester United planted a neat finish past the stranded Poke.
The Yellows desperately need a swift riposte and a speculative effort from 30 yards out by Nicholson prompted a comfortable hold for Flinders, but his next block from O’Connor needed all his skills to keep the scores level.
It was a positive response from United and Goodwin was next to cut inside from the left but his drive was again stopped by Flinders. The Gulls were in dominant mood and when Showunmi out-muscled Sam Collins, the loose ball fell to Benyon, who forced Flinders into yet another fine save.
A free-kick from Nicholson on the brink of half-time skimmed off the head of Collins, but the ball scraped inches over. United finished the half behind but plenty of encouragement for Hargreaves and his team.
Hartlepool started the second period with an ominous surge and James possibly should have done better than drag his shot wide after breaching the offside trap.
Benyon had a strong penalty shout denied moments later, when the impish forward rounded Flinders but the goalkeeper’s nudge was not deemed hefty enough to warrant a vital spot-kick. Barmby shaved Poke’s crossbar from the next attack.
Hartlepool would not be denied on 54 minutes and it came from a routine corner into the box for James to sneak in behind the Gulls, and nod a comfortable header past Poke. A very disappointing goal to concede and a mountain to climb for United.
As if to sum up the pattern of the day, the Gulls immediately swept forward and Showunmi teed up Damon Lathrope for a shot on goal, but, once again, Flinders was equal to the challenge.
Hargreaves decided the time was right to call on his substitute options, introducing Courtney Cameron for Stevens, but not before Benyon’s shot was blocked by a fine tackle from Collins.
A difficult situation turned into a disaster when Harewood was given the freedom of Victoria Road to waltz clear and slide the ball past Poke for a killer third goal. It was sloppy defending from United but Showunmi heading wide seconds later summed up the Yellow problem: good play not leading to
Jayden Stockley and Jordan Chapell replaced Benyon and Showunmi for the final 20 minutes, as United looked to salvage something from an impossible position. Hartlepool also rang the changes, removing Brad Walker, Harewood and Barmby for Lewis Hawkins, Antony Sweeney and
The fresh legs made no difference to the final outcome, as Hartlepool plodded happily to three points, while United must now look to the home fixtures with Fleetwood and Rochdale net week as virtually must-win games.
Hartlepool [4-4-2]: 1 Scott Flinders; 11 Andy Monkhouse, 35 Christian Burgess, 5 Sam Collins, 22 Darren Holden; 12 Jack Barmby [15 Antony Sweeney 80], 8 Simon Walton, 19 Jordan Richards, 38 Brad Walker [28 Lewis Hawkins 80]; 9 Marlon Harewood [7 Jonathan Franks 83], 33 Luke James. Substitutes [not used]: 10 James Poole, 13 Andy Rafferty [GK], 14 Jack Compton, 23 Nialle Rodney.
United [4-3-3]: 1 Michael Poke; 29 Anthony O’Connor, 5 Krystian Pearce, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Kevin Nicholson; 23 Danny Stevens [11 Courtney Cameron 60], 6 Damon Lathrope, 8 Ben Harding [capt]; 26 Elliot Benyon [12 Jordan Chapell 73], 25 Enoch Showunmi [19 Jayden Stockley 73], 17 Shamir Goodwin. Substitutes [not used]: 2 Dale Tonge, 9 Karl Hawley, 13 Martin Rice [GK], 27 Conor Wilkinson.
Referee: Fred Graham
Attendance: 3,437 [91 away].