Paul Murray’s first game in charge of Pools ended in disappointing defeat at Cambridge United snatched a late winner at The Abbey Stadium.
The new manager looked all set to celebrate his first match in the dugout with a share of the spoils after Brad Walker had cancelled out Ryan Donaldson’s opener but Harrison Dunk headed The U’s back in front with only three minutes left on the clock.
Murray made four changes to his first Pools team sheet, including Walker, Jonathan Franks, Matt Crooks and Sam Collins in his starting eleven.
But it was Cambridge who came out of the blocks quickly and set about dominating a one-sided first half in which Pools had to defend for large periods and with great determination.
Tom Elliott fired a warning shot wide via a deflection in the opening minutes and former Pools man Michael Nelson nodded over a decent chance from the resultant Ryan Donaldson corner.
U’s danger man Kwesi Appiah did well to wriggle in the box and went down under pressure from Neil Austin and while some players appealed for a penalty, midfielder Liam Hughes ran on to the loose ball and drilled it wide.
Murray’s men simply couldn’t make the ball stick up front despite pushing Matt Crooks up alongside Charlie Wyke in a 4-4-2, and Nelson nodded another Cambridge corner over at the back post as the hosts continued to press.
And they got their breakthrough on 26 minutes when Nelson’s typically no-nonsense clearance was misjudged by Scott Harrison and deflected through to Donaldson who was alert enough to nip in behind Collins and finish clinically past Scott Flinders.
It could have gone 2-0 with the hosts’ next attack; Luke Chadwick – who was a constant thorn for Pools – exchanged passes with Donaldson and ghosted in to the area but his shot was tame and held by Flinders.
Crooks did at least manage to register a Pools shot but saw his effort deflected on to the roof of the net, while Jonathan Franks sliced another effort from the edge of the area wide of the target.
Elliott had a half chance to increase Cambridge’s lead before the break after the home side won the ball high up the pitch, but the front man dragged a shot wide of the target as Pools went off grateful to only trail by one.
Whatever Murray said to his players in the dressing room seemed to do the trick though, and the introduction of Marlon Harewood paid dividends for the new boss.
A flowing move summed up their improvement when Duckworth, Miller and Franks worked the ball in to Harewood’s feet who teed up Crooks but he fired over when in good space.
It encouraged the visitors though and they continued to dominate the opening part of the second period; Walker stung the palms of home keeper Chris Dunn with a fierce drive from twenty yards.
However, the teenager wasn’t to be denied Harewood spun away from his man on to a ball on the left of the area, showed great composure to cut back inside and laid it in to the path of Walker who smashed home his second goal of the season to level the game.
The hosts recovered some foothold in the period that followed; Donaldson curled a free-kick just wide and Elliott volleyed at Flinders – but Pools continued to show menace on the break.
Crooks linked up well with Wyke on the edge of the area before curling a decent effort just the wrong side of the post as Murray’s men looked as likely to win as their hosts.
Michael Woods was introduced to the action and got involved straight away, wandering in to space twenty-five yards out but flashing a right-footed shot just wide of the near post.
It looked set to end all-square but with just three minutes remaining Hughes hurled a long throw in to the box which was flicked in to the path of Harrison Dunk whose powerful header flew past Flinders and in to the roof of the net.
Cambridge did their best to see the game out by squeezing the ball in the corner, but they did have to survive one injury time scare when a ball in to their box caused mayhem before Walker’s low strike was gratefully held on to by Dunn.
A slow start to Paul Murray’s reign in the first half was improved upon with an encouraging second half display which the new boss will be hoping to build further on that in his first full week on the training ground.
Full Time: Cambridge United 2 Pools 1
Attendance: 4931 (195 Pools)
Booked: Austin (9), Crooks (71), Walker (76)
Pools: Flinders, Duckworth, Collins, Harrison, Austin, Miller, Walker, Crooks (Woods 75), Franks (Smith 67), Brobbel, (Harewood 46) Wyke.
Subs Not Used: Richards, Holden, Jones, Hawkins.
Cambridge United: Dunn, Tait, Nelson, Coulson, Taylor, Hughes, Champion (Dunk 68), Chadwick (Naylor 60), Donaldson, Elliott, Appiah (Simpson 88).
Subs Not Used: Lanzoni, Norris, Lennon, Bird.