HARTLEPOOL United have started 2014 with three defeats on the bounce after two quick second-half goals secured a 2-0 win for Fleetwood Town.
Pools, down to 10 men for 88 minutes after right-back Jordan Richards was shown a straight red card for a late lunge on Town’s Jeff Hughes, were always up against it at the Highbury Stadium in Sky Bet League Two.
But Colin Cooper’s resilient side managed to hold on for the first half to go in at the break level.
It all changed in the second half though when goals in the 67th and 69th minute from Jon Parkin and Alex Marrow respectively put Fleetwood 2-0 up.
Pools never looked likely to get back in the game and in the end it was a comfortable second half for the Cod Army.
New signing Marlon Harewood had gone straight into Pools’ starting line-up while Jack Compton was back with Jonathan Franks dropping down to the bench and James Poole, out with a hamstring injury, not in the squad.
Harewood partnered 10-goal top scorer Luke James up front in a 4-4-2 formation.
Meanwhile, Richards started the game deputising at right-back for injured Michael Duckworth, out for at least a month with a double hernia.
Fleetwood’s loan signing from Sunderland, Mikael Mandron started on the bench for the Cod Army.
But it was the worst possible start for Cooper’s men, down to 10-men after Richards’ late lunge on Hughes’ right leg in only the second minute of the match.
The midfielder couldn’t carry on and was subbed for Alex Marrow.
It meant an early re-shuffle for Cooper and assistant Craig Hignett, with Luke James the unlucky player to leave the field in order to get veteran defender Sam Collins onto the pitch.
Jack Baldwin was pushed to right-back as Pools were forced to leave Harewood up front by himself.
To play 88 minutes with only 10 men was going to be no easy task but they recovered well from the early setback for the opening 20 minutes.
Fleetwood’s only chance of real note during that time was a 25-yard low half-volley from Stewart Murdoch after a weak punch from Scott Flinders fell to him.
Thankfully the big stopper managed to compose himself enough to spread himself and save the strike.
In the 21st minute, Fleetwood’s David Ball had an excellent opening six yards out but his first-time effort was just wide of Flinders’ right-hand post after a good cross from Charlie Taylor.
Town’s big frontman Jon Parkin was proving a handful upfront but apart from a header inside the six-yard box was restricted to long range efforts.
Cooper’s men were managing to withold the pressure of Town and they didn’t create another clear goalscoring opportunity until the 36th minute, Flinders at full stretch to tip wide Ball’s deflected effort.
As you would expect lone-striker Harewood was looking increasingly isolated up front but worked hard and showed a good touch and was always looking for the ball whenever Pools did manage to get out of their own half.
Parkin found himself with time and space inside Pools’ box after turning Christian Burgess in the 42nd minute but his floated effort was just over Flinders’ bar as Pools continued to hold firm.
Pools, despite being down to 10 men, looked comfortable for the most part and managed to restrict Graham Alexander’s Fleetwood at the half-way stage.
Half Time: Fleetwood Town 0 Pools 0.
Alexander’s Fleetwood side started the second half with great intent and within two minutes of the re-start Burgess had to be on his guard to head the ball off the line and keep the scores level.
Flinders had failed to deal with the ball and Town should have scored but the on-loan Middlesbrough defender showed his class and awareness to head clear.
Moments later Burgess and Flinders had words with each other as the pressure intensified, with the defender not happy with his keeper.
But Flinders made amends for his early mistake with a fine right-handed save at full stretch to deny Parkin’s attempt from 18-yards in the 56th minute.
Burgess, on a mission, then charged forward but his 20-yard attempt dribbled well wide of Scott Davies’ goal.
Sunderland striker Mandron made his entrance in the 63rd minute, coming on for Steven Schumacher as Alexander’s side pushed for the win.
In the 67th minute they had their goal, Burgess’ clearance fell to Parking whose crisp, first time left-footed finish curled past Flinders from 18-yards out to give Fleetwood the lead.
Moments later it was 2-0.
Baldwin robbed on the half-way line by Mandron who burst forward before the ball eventually fell to sub Marrow who poked the ball, first time, past Flinders in the 69th minute.
Andy Monkhouse tried his best to rally Pools, hitting the bar from 25-yards after a fine left-footed strike whistled over the outstretched hand of Davies but it bounced away to safety.
Winger Jonathan Franks and club captain Antony Sweeney were then brought on by Cooper with Compton and Baldwin making way.
Marrow was then booked for leaving a foot in on Flinders as he dived to gather the ball, the challenge angered Burgess who ran over and pushed the Fleetwood striker.
Both Marrow and Burgess were booked by referee James Adcock.
Charlie Taylor then tried his luck from distance in the 86th minute but it was comfortably wide of Flinders’ right-hand stick as Fleetwood ensured they took all three points.
Full Time: Fleetwood 2 Pools 0
Pools (4-4-2): Flinders; Austin; Richards; Burgess; Baldwin (Sweeney, 78); Walker; Walton; Monkhouse; Compton (Franks, 78); James (Collins, 9); Harewood.
Subs Not Used: Rafferty; Holden; Rodney; Hawkins.
Booked: Baldwin, Walton, Burgess.
Sent Off: Richards.
Fleetwood Town (4-1-3-2): Davies; Murdoch; Roberts; Pond; Schumacher (Mandron, 63); Parkin (Evans, 80); Hughes (Marrow, 8); Goodall; McLaughlin; Taylor; Ball.
Subs Not Used: Hogan; Cresswell; Maxwell; Carr.
Goals: Parkin, 67. Marrow, 69.
Referee: James Adcock.
Highbury Stadium, Fleetwood.