HARTLEPOOL United suffered a second-half collapse as Rochdale put three past them in their Sky Bet League Two match at Victoria Park.
The home side had the better chances to take the lead in the first half, with Jordan Richards clipping the post with a free-kick and James Poole forcing Josh Lillis into a smart save.
Neither side did enough to take the lead at the break but the second half was a different story.
It wasn’t long after the re-start that promotion chasing Dale took the lead, George Donnelly scrambling home in the 49th minute for the scrappiest of goals.
That was before a much-cleaner strike from Dale captain Peter Cavanagh doubled their lead in the 63rd minute.
Graham Cummins scored Dale’s third goal from close range in the 90th minute as Pools were beaten 3-0 for the second successive home match.
Pools boss Colin Cooper made two changes to his side with Jordan Richards, back from a double hernia operation, coming in at right-back for Michael Duckworth, who missed out with a groin injury, while Simon Walton came into central midfield for Matty Dolan, who has returned to parent club Middlesbrough FC after a four-month loan spell.
Ten-goal top scorer Luke James and James Poole again started up front against Rochdale, who beat Pools 3-0 on home soil in the opening fixture of the League Two campaign.
Jack Compton, meanwhile, returned from a spell out on the sidelines with a torn calf and started the match on the bench.
Pools went into the game in 15th place, seven points off the play-off spots, while Keith Hill’s Rochdale were sitting pretty in 5th place.
It was a quiet start from both sides, with Pools looking to make a better start than the last time they played at home, the New Year’s Day 3-0 defeat to Bury which saw the Shakers score twice in the opening 12 minutes.
It was 17-year-old Bradley Walker that had the first chance on goal, waltzing his way through the Dale defence only to see his weak shot from the edge of the area easily saved by Lillis.
Dale defender Jack O’Connell was then allowed the freedom of The Vic in the 12th minute, without a challenge in sight, to burst forward but his shot from distance bounced its way into the gloves of Scott Flinders.
Three minutes later and Pools hit the woodwork after Richards’ curling effort from a free-kick rebounded off the left-hand post - with Lillis beaten - but Christian Burgess was unable to score from the rebound and the ball was cleared.
James had been fouled for the free-kick after managing to wriggle his way through two defenders before eventually being tumbled over to give Richards the opportunity.
Peter Vincenti then tested Flinders, again from distance, but the big stopper was equal to it.
Burgess looked eager to make up for his earlier chance but his header from inside the box - after a Jonathan Franks free-kick in the 25th minute - was high over the Rink End stand.
James was then put through inside the Dale penalty area in the 27th minute after a clever through-ball from Poole but he was unable to get a proper connection as Lillis smothered the ball.
It was a tight opening first 45 minutes and it looked very much like whoever scored the first goal would go on to take all three points.
But Pools were struggling to get enough men forward despite some patient build-up play.
The best chance of the half came in the 40th minute, Poole acrobatically forcing Lillis into a smart save to turn the ball over the bar after an excellent cross from Andy Monkhouse found the Pools forward six yards out.
Walton then entered the referee’s book for a foul on Vincenti, while referee Rob Lewis also had words with the Pools bench as frustrations began to grow.
Sub George Donnelly had a fierce effort from distance but it dipped over the bar as the sides went into the break level.
HALF TIME: Pools 0 Rochdale 0
Rochdale started the second half far sharper and it wasn’t long before they took the lead through substitute Donnelly.
An Ian Henderson corner in the 49th minute was met by Donnelly whose scrappy shot was blocked but the ball fell to him and he bundled it past Flinders to give Dale a 1-0 lead.
Credit to Pools, they didn’t let their heads drop and Franks found himself free 12-yards out from goal but his shot was deflected wide for a corner when he should have at least hit the target.
Dale captain Peter Cavanagh then brought Monkhouse down on the edge of the area and was booked but the resulting Poole free-kick hit the bottom of the wall.
Moments later Poole was taken off and replaced by Nialle Rodney.
It was 2-0 to Rochdale in the 63rd minute, courtesy of a fine right-footed strike from Cavanagh from 20-yards out, the ball firing past Flinders in the Pools goal.
In the 68th minute, Cooper brought on his second substitute, Compton making his return from injury in place of Franks on the right wing.
The winger looked lively, getting into two good positions inside the penalty area but his final ball wasn’t good enough as Pools looked to get back into the game.
James continued to work hard up front but in truth he was getting more and more isolated as the game wore on, with Rodney, playing in a wider role, and Monkhouse, not doing enough in way of support.
Jack Baldwin found himself free inside the penalty area to get on the end of a Compton free-kick in the 79th minute but he headed it over as Pools failed to create any real chances of note.
Goalscoring substitute Donnelly was then subbed himself for Graham Cummins as Keith Hill looked to secure their 2-0 lead and take all three points back across the M62.
Burgess glanced a header into the hands of Lillis but Pools looked devoid of any real creativity in the final third as Rochdale eased their way to victory.
Substitute Graham Cummins completed the scoring in the 90th minute, converting from close range to give Dale what was a comfortable 3-0 win in the end.
Cummins then clipped the right-hand post in added on time as Pools threatened to completely collapse.
FULL TIME: Pools 0 Rochdale 3
Hartlepool United (4-4-1-1): Flinders, Richards, Baldwin, Burgess, Austin (C), Franks (Compton, 68), Walker, Walton, Monkhouse, Poole (Rodney, 60), James.
Subs Not Used: Rafferty, Collins, Sweeney, Holden, Hawkins.
Rochdale (4-4-3): Lillis, Bennett, Cavanagh (C), Lancashire, Vincenti, Hogan (Bunney, 83), Lund (Donnelly, 21, Cummins, 80), Done, O’Connell, Rose, Henderson.
Subs Not Used: Thomson, Rafferty, Eastham, Allen.
Booked: Cavanagh, Hogan.
Goals: Donnelly (49) Cavanagh (63), Cummins (90).
Referee: Rob Lewis (Shrewsbury).
Attendance: 3,685 (Rochdale 232)