NEALE Cooper admits he’s seen – and been part of – some horrific displays during his time in football, but nothing as bad as the latest one.
He looked on as his hapless Hartlepool United side gave Wycombe Wanderers five goals thanks to a string of awful individual defensive errors.
Cooper was furious at half-time, to the extent he barked his players down the tunnel and into their dressing room as he tore a strip off them. By full-time he cut a calmer figure, the anger had gone, but the disappointment still raged.
Pool did have slim hopes, outside ones at best, of a tilt at the play-offs. They can be pretty much forgotten about now. Each goal the Chairboys bagged was handed to them on a plate. It was hard to imagine this Pool side has not conceded a goal at Victoria Park since January 2.
Sam Collins and Peter Hartley were torn apart for the opener. The skipper missed a header which allowed striker Paul Hayes in behind Hartley. His shot was blocked, the rebound was scored. Then from a corner six minutes later, former Tottenham defender Gary Doherty, signed on loan from Charlton, was given a free header as Collins failed to get close enough.
Eleven minutes in and Pool were two down to the bottom club – it was to get worse. Evan Horwood didn’t deal with a long ball, left his header short of Scott Flinders, and Stuart Beavon netted.
Then Flinders joined in the mess. His kick struck Hayes, and then Beavon set up his new strike partner for a tap in.
The Chairboys, who won 3-1 at Victoria Park earlier this season, completed their biggest ever home win on 71 minutes.
Neil Austin didn’t clear his lines, was robbed by Beavon and the striker shot across Flinders.
Pool’s defending was shambolic and Cooper is expecting – and demanding a response at Bury tomorrow evening. He said: “I hope it hurts, I don’t want boys who aren’t hurting after a game like that.
“But I’ve said my bit and we can go and win at Bury on Tuesday - that will be the perfect tonic for the team.
“I spoke to Micky (Barron, Pool’s coach) and we said I could go in and blast them again but it’s in the past now. We are a way better team than that. Now we have a chance to rectify that and I’ll be expecting a major performance.”
The manager concluded: “I’m sorry to the supporters who came down. It was a shock from what I’ve been used to. They looked off the pace from the word go.
“When you give them a two-goal start it gives them a lift. The passing, the movement, everything was terrible. It’s good we have that game on Tuesday.”
WYCOMBE WANDERERS: Bull; McCoy, Laing, Doherty, Basey, Hackett, Lewis, Eastmond (Bloomfield 86), McNamee, Beavon (McClure 88), Hayes (Strevens 86). Subs (not used): Foster, Ainsworth.
Goals: Hayes 5, Doherty 11, Beavon 42, Hayes 55, Beavon 71.
HARTLEPOOL UNITED: Flinders; Austin, Collins, Hartley, Horwood, Sweeney, Haslam (Boyd 46), Murray (Baldwin 61), Monkhouse, Brown (Nish 67), James. Subs (not used): Rafferty, Humphreys.
Referee: Brendan Malone (Wiltshire).