Pools are seeking seven victories for safety

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The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

Final Score: Doncaster Rovers 3 Hartlepool United 0

ELEVEN games to go, eleven cup finals. And Hartlepool United could do with winning seven of them to probably stay in League One.

Losing at Doncaster on Saturday was, in the grand scheme of things, an affordable reverse.

But defeat to Colchester tomorrow night or Oldham a week tomorrow would make the situation a lot less appealing.

Tomorrow's match is Pools' game in hand on their rivals - they sit eight points short of both Scunthorpe and the Us, six shy of Oldham.

Pools went to South Yorkshire unbeaten in seven games, but were brushed off by the League One leaders.

Doncaster were steady without being spectacular, while John Hughes' side were a shadow of the team who had won their three previous games.

On an excuse of a pitch - covering the surface a few weeks ago to get a game on in frozen conditions killed the grass - Pools never got going.

The verve and purpose they have played with of late just wasn't there and Hughes wondered how much the recent level of displays has taken out of his players.

They need to regain that panache and momentum for tomorrow.

"The Doncaster result is already behind us - it has to be,'' he declared.

"On a pitch like that we should have turned it into a right fight and a battle and have no embarrassment doing it.

"I just felt we didn't play with the energy we did on Tuesday, which was disappointing. Doncaster were worthy winners.

"We need to use the disappointment as fuel going into Tuesday.

"Maybe in the cold light of day one or two of them will say 'I'm better than what I showed there'.

"You can channel that for Tuesday.''

He added: "I'm reluctant to be critical of them but I ask was there the same effort and commitment which was there on Tuesday night (against Crewe)?

"Did Tuesday take too much out of them? If I say that it gives them an excuse.

"There cannot be any excuses between now and the end of the season.''

The way Pools defended as a unit for the opening goal was inexcusable.

Rob Jones was solid throughout and he let Charlie Wyke know who was in charge from the opening minutes. He brought the ball out of defence without a challenge and rolled it into the feet of Iain Hume.

The striker dropped deep, turned and went at goal. As he turned to catch the defence off-guard things opened up for him to roll a shot into the bottom corner.

For a team that plays with a compact midfield, without much width to really stretch the play, the fact that the ball travelled from one end of the field to the other along the deck was especially galling.

Wyke lost his marker from a corner and nodded over the bar at the start of the second-half, as clear a chance as Pools had until that point.

Three minutes later Rovers made it two. Dave Cotterill played more advanced after the break and he roamed across field in possession. The ball was played into James Coppinger, who pushed a low finish across Flinders.

Two changes were made by Hughes to try and engineer some improvement - and perhaps keep James Poole and Jon Franks fresh for tomorrow.

One of the subs, Steve Howard, nodded across goal from a deep Horwood ball and Wyke might have turned it in if he had dived to try and connect.

But Rovers completed the win when Billy Paynter peeled off at the far post to arc his header past Scott Flinders.

"We can't afford any more like that,'' admitted Hughes. "It was flat.

"We needed to go and have a right go at them.

"I thought before they scored the goal we were working our way into the game, but the goal knocked us.

"It's hard to keep asking them to go back into the well and find more - but this time of the season that's what you've got to do. You have to find that motivation to say 'I'm going to lead from the front'.''

Pools, backed by 850 fans, were without Simon Walton, the midfielder kept out with a hamstring strain. He is expected to be fit for tomorrow and Pools certainly missed his influence.

"I haven't got many options to make changes, that's why I'm desperate to keep everyone injury free,'' added Hughes. "I've been in this situation before and the experienced players usually serve you well.

"We need to keep that with the younger lads coming on to give us energy.

"Let's not lose sight of where we were at Christmas. We're still giving ourselves a fighting chance. We can't feel sorry for ourselves. Let's put this result right on Tuesday.''

MATCHFACTS

Goals:

1-0: Hume (35, dropped deep to take a pass, turned, ran at the defence and finished low)

2-0: Coppinger (55, slow, low angled effort across goal from the left side)

3-0: Payner (81, powerful header from eight yards after meeting an inviting left wing cross from Husband)

Booking: Wyke (90, foul)

Referee: Stephen Bratt (Walsall): Kept his cards in his pocket when other referees would have dished out four yellows 7

Attendance: 7,457

Entertainment: 2/5

DONCASTER ROVERS (4-4-2): Woods 6; Quinn 6, Jones 8, McCombe 7, Spurr 6; COTTERILL 8 (Bennett 85), Sykes 6, Lundstram 7, Husband 7; Coppinger 6, Hume 7 (Paynter 63, 6). Subs (not used): Maxted, Sinclair, Harper, Wakefield, Ball.

HARTLEPOOL UNITED (4-3-2-1):

7 Flinders: Called into action plenty of times in the second half and kept the score down;

6 Austin: Pressed back and unable to get forward as much as he needs to in Pools' narrow formation

6 Collins: Switched on and, while he might have got tighter to Coppinger for the second goal, was generally firm

5 Hartley: Always seemed uneasy and didn't play with the authority he has been doing of late

5 Horwood: As he pushed forward in the second half, Rovers picked off the space left behind him to attack;

6 Baldwin: On a pudding of a pitch, he showed his ability to pass the ball with confidence and simplicity

6 Humphreys: Busy in the holding role while sitting deep in front of the back four

5 Monkhouse: Saw his share of the ball when Pools had it, but would have wanted to make more of an impact on his first start in a while;

5 Franks: Had an early shot bounce wide, but wasn't able to run at the defence with the ball at his feet like he has been doing

5 Poole: Always on the edge of the game, was always closed down and couldn't use the ball well when he had it;

5 Wyke: Snuffed out by Jones at the back, he put a free header over the bar from a corner when Pools were one-down.

Subs:

James (for Franks 59): Took up a spot on the right side, but didn't make much impact 5

Howard (for Poole 59): Put a header wide beyond the far post which could have made a difference at 2-0 5

(not used): McHugh (gk), Walker, Luscombe, Holden, Rutherford.

MAN OF THE MATCH

DAVE COTTERILL - when Rovers stepped up a gear in the second half, he was their architect.

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