HARTLEPOOL United have crashed out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy after a frustrating 2-1 defeat to Rotherham United at Victoria Park.
Colin Cooper’s men were by far the better team for large periods of the northern area quarter final match against the Millers.
Pools had dominated the first 45 minutes but goals from Tom Eaves and Kieran Agard gave Steve Evans side a half-time lead and that proved to be enough.
Andy Monkhouse, who could have had a hat-trick, had earlier equalised for Cooper’s men in an entertaining match at the Vic.
Cooper had named an unchanged starting line-up with nine-goal top scorer Luke James and James Poole starting up front against the Millers at Victoria Park, while veteran Sam Collins retained his place in the centre of defence after an impressive performance in the 3-2 FA Cup win over Notts County on Saturday.
On-loan Middlesbrough defender Christian Burgess returned to the bench after serving a one-game suspension for collecting five yellow cards.
It was a bright start from Pools and Poole showed his intent within the opening two minutes, curling a left-footed effort from the edge of the penalty area just wide of Adam Collin’s right-hand post.
The Millers, managed by Steve Evans, made five changes to their starting line-up and took the lead in the ninth minute.
A Michael Tidser corner from the right was whipped in to the six-yard box and forward TOM EAVES got ahead of Matty Dolan to head past Scott Flinders to give Rotherham the lead.
Pools, who had won the last four matches at The Vic, patiently went about trying to get back in the game.
And the equaliser almost came in the 17th minute when Andy Monkhouse had a looping header cleared off the line after the winger connected with a deep Simon Walton corner.
Poole then went close three minutes later but the onrushing Collin just managed to get a strong hand to his poked effort from about eight-yards out after he was put through.
Tider found himself in the referee’s notebook in the 21st minute after bringing down Poole from behind as he thrust through the centre of the field.
From the resulting Dolan free-kick, defender Jack Baldwin connected too well and his volley rocketed over the bar.
It wasn’t long before Pools were back on level terms.
Former Rotherham winger MONKHOUSE combined well with James on the edge of the area, with the former collecting the ball, jinking past the defender and cooly slotting the ball past Collin.
It was Monkhouse’s fourth of the season and 50th goal for Pools.
Monkhouse then forced Collin to make two saves, marauding right-back Michael Duckworth could have opened his Pools account but scuffed his shot from just inside the box, while Poole had a delightful dipping curler from the edge of the box float just over the bar.
James went close in the 41st minute when the ball broke kindly for him on the edge of the box but Collin just managed to get enough on the ball and send it round for the post for a corner.
Then against the run of play the Millers took the lead in the 44th minute, a Lee Frecklington shot hit KIERAN AGARD and wrong-footed Flinders to give them a half-time lead.
HALF TIME: Pools 1 Rotherham 2.
Referee Darren Drysdale had been booed off at half-time by the home fans for several questionable and at times baffling decisions and he was roundly booed on again for the start of the second half.
And it was Pools who again started brightly. Baldwin should have equalised in the 55th minute but failed to connect properly with a free header from 10-yards out.
Monkhouse looked to have been brought down in the 59th minute inside the box by Pablo Mills and despite cries for a penalty from the home team and fans, Drysdale waved it away.
Pools dominated possession and the chances and the front four of Monkhouse, Franks, Poole and James had come out of the half-time break all guns blazing.
Duckworth and Franks combined well down the right hand flank as the Millers goal came under increasing pressure.
Millers boss Evans made three early substitutions in a bid to stem the flow of Pools pressure, with former Pools striker Daniel Nardiello among the subs entering the action.
As the game wore on and the temperature dipped to the below-freezing mark Pools looked like they had run out of ideas and were struggling to make inroads into the Millers defence.
Walton’s free kick in the 75th minute from the left-hand side of the area whistled what looked like inches wide of the right-hand post and away for a goal kick. The home fans becoming increasingly aggitated with Millers keeper Collin’s frustrating timewasting.
Antony Sweeney and Bradley Walker entered the fray for Pools as the game entered the final stages as Cooper looked to get his team back on the front foot.
Millers substitute Alex Revell did have the ball in the back of the net in the 86th minute but he had already been ruled offside.
Sam Collins then headed the ball down to fellow defender Neil Austin but his strong right-footed shot was well saved. Moments later, Baldwin hit the left-hand post after connecting with a Walton corner and the ball cannoned into the Town End.
James was then bundled over in the 94th minute but again Pools were denied what looked like a penalty as the game reached a dramatic climax.
But the Millers held on to progress into the northern area semi-final.
FULL TIME: Pools 1 Rotherham 2.
Pools: Flinders; Duckworth; Baldwin; Collins; Austin (C); Franks (Richards, 86); Walton; Dolan (Sweeney, 80); Monkhouse; Poole (Walker, 85); James.
Subs Not Used: Rafferty; Burgess.
Rotherham United: Collin; Brindley; Skarz (Pringle, 60); Mills; Frecklington; Milsom; Tubbs (Nardiello, 67); Morgan (C); Agard; Tidser; Eaves (Revell, 69).
Subs Not Used: Shearer; Davis.
Booked: Tidser, Skarz, Frecklington, Agard, Nardiello, Brindley.
Referee: Darren Drysdale (Lincolnshire).
Attendance: 2,911 (268 Rotherham United)