Hartlepool United sliced apart by the Blades

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NEALE Cooper has already shown a canny knack for tactics.

In the wake of this defeat it was Micky Barron who faced the press, declaring that he would shoulder the responsibility for a sorry showing.

Cooper had, in fact, intervened at half-time, having been less than impressed with the performance he had just witnessed.

That being the case, we could interpret his record as played one, won one, given the slightly improved effort which saw Pools “win the second half” 1-0.

But Cooper had been right to distance himself from that feeble first-half display against United, managed by former Pools boss Danny Wilson.

Indeed, the new manager even retreated to the shelter of the dugout after half an hour having previously watched from a standing position on the sidelines.

Perhaps he needed a seat, for what he had just taken in had opened his eyes to the task he has on his hands.

In fairness, the home side are just about as good as you are going to face at this level and had played well, but, as even Gary Liddle said himself afterwards, that does not excuse such a pitiful performance.

Pools were out-fought, out-run and out-classed from the off.

The first goal was the prime case in point.

Paul Murray had squandered possession and Peter Hartley had afforded Ched Evans too much room to break free.

Hartley, in fairness, managed to recover the situation with a sliding boot to thwart the Welsh striker.

But team-mate Neil Austin had not read the situation and a soft shoe in challenging for the loose ball with Ryan Flynn allowed the Blades man to steal before smashing into the bottom corner on 12 minutes.

Murray, Ritchie Humphreys, Sam Collins and Austin were all guilty of wasting possession as the most reliable of senior stars struggled to lead the side.

Antony Sweeney, having been so involved and energetic at Oldham last week, was isolated and subsequently anonymous on the right, while Andy Monkhouse missed the presence of James Poole, in the stands because of a hamstring problem, as his flicks and decent hold-up play went without reward.

As a result Pools found themselves deeply entrenched in their own half and the only surprise was that it took 34 minutes for the hosts to locate a second.

Flynn turned provider as he scurried all too easily into the area and flashed a cross into the six-yard area.

Chris Porter, a centre-forward who should have been attached a minder, was left alone to stoop and head home the easiest of goals.

A third had been conceded by half-time.

Lee Williamson drew a cross into the area which travelled a good 20 yards without interception before Evans, horribly unmarked so close to goal, turned into the bottom corner.

The half-time whistle was a relief.

Cooper turned to two of his former charges – James Brown and Adam Boyd – in a bid to breathe fresh life into the team.

But the new boss will have to work some of his much-vaunted motivational magic if that pair are to rediscover the form they showed during his first reign.

Luke James replaced the injured Collins and he was the one positive which Cooper would have taken from the game.

There was time for Hartley to smash an injury-time consolation, but the faces of the players as they re-emerged for a warm-down afterwards told its own story.

But for Cooper, it was perhaps best that he saw Pools at their worst, as it certainly gives him plenty to work on in 2012.

Sheff Utd: Simonsen, Lowton (Ertl 55), Maguire, Collins, Jean-Francois, Williamson, McDonald (Montgomery 80), Doyle, Flynn, Evans, Porter (Beattie 79). Subs Not Used: Long, Philliskirk. Goals: Flynn 12, Porter 34, Evans 42.

Hartlepool: Flinders, Austin, Collins (James 66), Hartley, Horwood, Sweeney, Baldwin (Brown 46), Murray (Boyd 46), Liddle, Monkhouse, Humphreys. Subs Not Used: Rafferty, Solano. Booked: Hartley, Baldwin. Goals: Hartley 90.

Att: 20, 372 Ref: Gary Sutton (Lincolnshire).