Sheffield United slipped to a shock 3-2 home defeat to bottom side Hartlepool at a rain-sodden Bramall Lane.
On the 150th anniversary of the first game ever played at Bramall Lane, United had to make three changes, as Westlake came in for the suspended McMahon, Williams came in for Collins and Cofie for Miller, and Hill went back to centre-back. The bench was once again full of young players. Struggling Pool fielded some experienced players and some with links to the Blades – former YTS man Humphreys and former reserve team regular Horwood.
United began by winning a corner and Doyle had a close-range effort blocked but soon after were behind, as the visitors scored with their first attack. United dithered on a throw, Blackman left his man and then Westlake was not switched on and the cross came over too easily from Humphreys. The ball sailed over both centre-backs and Howard easily won the ball to power home his header.
Soon after, Howard nearly scored again but he rushed his shot, then an even better chance came as Walton threaded in Franks, whose curler went narrowly past the post. United were all over the place and needed a nice exchange of passes involving McDonald and Flynn to create a half chance for Flynn.
United slowly started to get back into it and Blackman’s daisy cutter was excellently palmed away by Flinders. The next time United got sight of goal they were able to get level but this time the keeper will not have been happy with his work.
Doyle hit a long-range shot and, though it had power, it was an easier effort to save than the previous one but Flinders somehow spilt it into his own net.
United looked to build on this and Maguire fired over after some nimble footwork, and then a few opportunities fizzed across the box. Still, Hartlepool finished the half stronger and won two corners as both Williams and Westlake could not to grips with the wing play.
The first chance of the second half came when Flynn nipped in to round the keeper and score after the ball had been blocked from Cofie’s initial miss-hit. Replays showed it was onside, but the referee disallowed it and chose to have a word in an odd situation where players from their own team were pushing and shoving each other.
This seemed to galvanise Hartlepool and they were soon back in the lead with their first attack of the second half. United were completely switched off as Westlake lost his man once again, the cross came over from Horwood and Humphreys stole in front of the defenders to angle a low shot goalwards. Long may have felt he could have done better, as the ball went in off his hand and into the corner. It was an incredibly sloppy goal to concede as the United boyhood fan celebrated with the sparse Hartlepool following behind the goal.
United tried to find a way back but after McDonald’s decent run he fired wildly across goal and the Cofie’s fierce effort was straight into Flinders’ midriff. Cofie had been disappointing and he was withdrawn for Chapell. Blackman moved up front as the young substitute went wide right.
From their next attack, Hartlepool scored again. Poole got away from Westlake and put in a lovely deep cross to the far post. Howard peeled off Maguire and nodded intelligently back beyond Long and into the far corner of the goal. United were stunned but Hartlepool had worked incredibly hard and no one could deny that they had deserved to lead in the game. United now faced an almighty struggle to avoid embarrassment and get anything from the game.
With just under 10 minutes to play, United took off Doyle and Kitson and put on Ironside and Cresswell in a last-ditch attempt to get something from the game. Maguire was clearly brought down in a scramble but as he appealed, and after a series of shoves, the referee booked him and a visiting player; Maguire now faces a suspension.
Right at the close, after stoppage time had been played, United scored a meaningless second. The cross came from the right and, after the initial shot was blocked, Maguire reacted first and poked it in via a defender. There was barely any time to kick off and sure enough referee Deadman called an end to the game. Hartlepool’s players and staff celebrated wildly with their fans, whilst United’s players trooped off in front of their disgruntled home crowd.