A series of first half defensive errors cost Pools dear at Bristol Rovers on Tuesday night as the hosts ran out 4-1 winners to climb back in to the play-offs spots in League Two.
After the encouraging display against Northampton Town, Craig Hignett had decided to name an unchanged starting eleven but was forced in to a late change when Matthew Bates was injured and Scott Harrison came in to the centre of defence.
The only other change came on the bench where Tony Caig was forced to deputise with Adam Bartlett back at home following the birth of his first child and Peter Denton sidelined after knee surgery.
A wildly unpredictable and heavy wind made things difficult for both sides as they struggled to adapt in the early stages but Pools grew in to the game and began to knock it about well, with Luke James looking in lively mood up front.
However, that work was undone on ten minutes when Billy Paynter failed in his appeals for a free-kick on the halfway line and Rovers broke quickly to feed it through to recalled top scorer Matty Taylor who produced a thunderous left-footed finish in to the top corner.
The hosts almost added a second immediately when dangerous left-back Lee Brown got away in to the left side of the box but when his low ball across was bundled in by Taylor the offside flag went up to deny him a quick-fire second.
Pools mustered a shot on goal when Nicky Featherstone’s cross from the right was cleared as far as Brad Walker but he dragged an effort wide from twenty-five yards.
A second goal for Rovers arrived just after the half hour mark and it was an ugly one as far as Pools were concerned. Harrison badly misjudged a hopeful ball forward and Rory Gaffney took full advantage to burst in behind, bundle his way past Trevor Carson and evade desperate challenges on the line to roll the ball home.
Gaffney could have had his second just after when he beat the offside trap down the right to storm through on goal but Adam Jackson got across in the nick of time with an excellent recovery challenge.
However, it was only brief respite for Pools who conceded again six minutes before the break when Brown burst on to Liam Lawrence’s ball to the byline and chipped a cross in to the middle where Taylor was unmarked to head home from four yards.
Chris Lines should probably have made it 4-0 almost immediately when Jackson inexplicably gave the ball away to Taylor but, when he played it through to Lines, the midfielder’s tame effort was held by Carson.
Hignett’s men rallied towards the break and Nathan Thomas’ cross from the left was nodded on goal by the energetic James but unfortunately straight at the thankful keeper Steve Mildenhall.
The Rovers shot-stopper was even more relieved just before the break when Walker won a free-kick twenty-five yards out before picking himself up to crash his effort from the dead ball against the cross bar with Mildenhall beaten. The fact Paynter couldn’t convert the rebound summed up a miserable first half.
The second period got was only seven minutes old when Pools gave themselves a lifeline though; Magnay moved forward to feed Walker and he threaded a cute pass through to Paynter and he made no mistake, rifling home from twelve yards.
It should have been the catalyst for a revival with signs of anxiety creeping through a previously buoyant home crowd – but sadly, Pools reached for the self-destruct button again moments later and the game was over.
Walker was caught in possession on the edge of his own penalty area and that allowed Brown to escape down the left again and his low ball in to the box was turned in to the net by Taylor to celebrate his hat-trick.
The recalled striker could even have helped himself to a fourth when he cut inside and saw a shot blocked by Harrison, while Chris Lines ball in to the box caught Gaffney unawares and Carson was able to collect.
James was refusing to give up despite some robust challenges from the home defenders and he drove inside from the left to feed Walker and his ferocious effort crashed against the outside of the post on its way wide.
The game continued to be an open affair for the rest of the half as both sides looked capable of finding the net again; Magnay fired a volley over at one end while Carson did well to block a Gaffney shot after he got away from Magnay.
There was even time for James to prod another effort on goal at the front post after good work on the right from substitutes Rhys Oates and Scott Fenwick.
In truth, the damage had been done during a suicidal first half and Pools will have to ensure they cut out those individual errors when they hit the road again to take on Barnet this weekend.
Full Time: Bristol Rovers 4 Pools 1
Booked: Featherstone (27), Carroll (53), Walker (82)
Attendance: 6634 (87 Pools)
Bristol Rovers: Mildenhall, J Clarke, Lockyer, McChrystal, Brown, Bodin, Lines, Mansell (O Clarke 83), Lawrence, Taylor (Easter 75), Gaffney (Harrison 78).
Subs Not Used: Leadbitter, Parkes, Castillo, Puddy.
Pools: Carson, Magnay, Harrison, Jackson, Carroll, Featherstone (Hawkins 66), Walker, Gray, James, Paynter (Oates 75), Thomas (Fenwick 59).
Subs Not Used: Caig, Richards, Laurent.