HARTLEPOOL UNITED had gone 20 years since losing to Port Vale.
Back in 1994, they conceded six in a Cup tie at Vale Park, when they were utterly humbled and completely outclassed; now for 1994, read 2014.
Last night it was more like capital punishment than the Capital One Cup as Pools were comprehensively torn apart.
The six goals they conceded could have been doubled. And it’s not just the number of goals they shipped last night that was concerning, it was the manner in which they came.
Pools lost at Stevenage at the weekend in League Two, losing out to a physical team. Colin Cooper last night expected more of a footballing test and they were second best by a long way.
This wasn’t a League Two side visiting a League One club, the difference was more akin to Pools being pitched against a Premier League side in the next round, such was the chasing they were given.
Defensively inept, they failed to defend their box with any sort of authority. Boss Colin Cooper was shell-shocked.
“It’s not something I’m very proud of,’’ he said. “To defend an 18-yard box like that is not something we do and we have three days to get it sorted out for Saturday.
“You have to defend around the outside of your box, in front of your box and you have to defend inside your box and it doesn’t matter if you are playing international football or League Two football as in our case.
“Head it when it comes in, that’s the whole team implicated.
“We did start well, as we did on Saturday and were braver on the ball. But look at the first goal. The centre-half has a shot, Scott makes a save and their centre-forward reacts quicker to slot it in.
“We score a nice goal and then again, defending in front of the box isn’t good enough. We are behind again, then a cross, another cross and another cross and we are down.
“I’m not going to highlight any individuals , but as an ex defender I look at it and know if you don’t stop crosses, shots and defend your area you are in trouble.
“We did get back into the game twice, but conceded quickly. We did play nice stuff in patches, but again it’s about defending your area.
“Anything we did is clouded over by not being able to defend our area.’’
Pools last conceded six when they were beaten in the FA Cup at Chesterfield. This was every bit humbling and more.
At least on that day, Pools knew they were a bad team, having just sacked manager Neal Cooper. This manager named Cooper couldn’t see this coming in his worst dreams.
Pools are supposed to be a side that keeps it tight at the back, yet striker Ben Williamson knocked in a ten-minute first-half hat-trick.
Scott Flinders spilled a speculative shot from distance and Williamson pounced.
But Pools levelled instantly. Jon Franks – one of three changes from the weekend – drilled in a low shot from 25 yards which bounced past keeper Sam Johnson.
Vale were soon ahead again. Tricky attacker Mark Marshall danced his way into the area and, with little resistance, teed up Williamson for number two.
His third came with a well-taken header – but one Pools should have deal with better. The cross was swung over from the left at pace from Chris Burchill, and with Flinders caught in no man’s land and Collins caught out, allowing Williamson to loop his header home.
Two goals to the good, it became a first-half exercise in keeping possession for Vale. It was too easy by far.
For Collins, it was a miserable return to the club he had previously served well.
Flinders made two saves as the half came to a close, saving from Tom Pope and stopping a tasty free-kick from James O’Connor.
Pools, to their credit, did show some much-needed spirit at the start of the second half.
Collins was pulled back in the penalty area and Neil Austin scored from the spot. Perhaps Pools did have a second chance of making a game of it now?
Instead, midfielder Michael Brown scored from close range, turning in a cross with a shoulder against his home-town club.
And Pope twice finished well to make it six. First he tapped in after Flinders pushed a shot into his path, before finishing with a deft header at the far post.