Sheffield United’s league agony continued into a Cup competition tonight. They went down to League Two Hartlepool in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie second-round tie.
Manager David Weir had rotated his squad, opting to make five changes, recalling Mark Howard, Darryl Westlake, Lyle Taylor, Conor Coady and Jamie Murphy to the starting line-up.
George Long, Tony McMahon, Febian Brandy, Florent Cuvelier and Ryan Hall dropped out.
Competition rules limit the number of personnel alterations a manager can make in the Trophy, with clubs duty bound to select either at least six of the 11 that started the previous match or at least six of the 11 players who have made the most appearances this season.
Writing in his programme notes, Weir said: “The Trophy may not be everyone’s priority but winning breeds confidence and that is why we are regarding this fixture as an important one.”
United were seeking a respite from their depressing League position tonight, and hoping to make progress in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
And they almost went ahead inside the opening minute after great play on the left flank from Lyle Taylor, who raced to the byline and picked out Coady unmarked in the centre and the midfielder, on loan from Liverpool, rattled the crossbar with his rasping left foot drive.
Hartlepool, deploying a 4-5-1 formation, looked lively on the counter attack and Jack Compton tested the reflexes of Howard in the seventh minute.
Moments later, Luke James, operating as Pool’s lone striker, should have given them the lead after latching on to James Poole’s clever through ball but he scuffed his effort off target.
United, chasing their first victory in 12 matches in all competitions, struggled in the early skirmishes to break down Pool’s well organised defence.
Jamie Murphy tried his luck from distance to no avail, with his strike drifting aimlessly wide.
Eight minutes before the break, Hartlepool broke the deadlock through a stunning strike from Poole. Andy Monkhouse flicked on Dean Holden’s long throw into Poole’s path and he superbly volleyed home from 12 yards.
Coady combined effectively with Jose Baxter nine minutes after the re-start and the latter skipped effortlessly past Bradley Walker deep inside Hartlepool territory but he fired straight at Scott Flinders.
Weir threw on Ryan Hall and Joe Ironside to try and give United more of a cutting edge in the final third.
For all their neat and tidy possession, United lacked the nous to unlock Hartlepool’s tight rearguard.
With 12 minutes remaining, King, who will miss Sunday’s trip to Coventry City because he is away on international duty with Jamaica, fed Baxter on the edge of the area and his low shot was brilliantly blocked by Darren Holden.
Hall then drilled a shot agonisingly over the top as Weir’s side continued to pile on the pressure.
There were chants of ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ from the home fans and the players were booed off at the final whistle.
Sheffield United: Howard, Westlake, Maguire, Doyle, Taylor, Baxter, Collins, Coady, King, Lappin, Murphy.
Subs: Hall, Hill, McGinn, Ironside, Willis.
Hartlepool: Flinders, Austin, Walton, Poole, Monkhouse, Compton, Duckworth, Holden, James, Burgess, Walker.
Subs: Franks, Rafferty, Sweeney, Richards, Rodney.
Referee: Mick Russell