Pools slumped to their heaviest defeat in almost four years as they were thrashed 6-1 by Stevenage on an afternoon to forget at The Lamex Stadium.
There were no signs of the nightmare to come when Nathan Thomas fired Craig Hignett’s men in front in the early stages – but a second half collapse was as hard to explain as it was to watch as Pools slipped down to 19th in the table.
The Pools boss had been forced to shuffle his pack with Toto Nsiala suspended and injury still keeping Matthew Bates and Rob Jones sidelined so Carl Magnay returned to skipper the side from an unfamiliar centre-back role.
Nicky Featherstone and Michael Woods were back to bolster the midfield, while Thomas and Padraig Amond were restored to a three-pronged attack alongside Lewis Alessandra.
The hosts began with real purpose and went at Pools from the off, winning an early left-wing corner from which centre-back Fraser Franks should probably have scored instead of flashing a header wide.
It proved a costly miss because Pools were able to steal in front just seconds later when Scott Harrison opened things up with a beautiful switch of play to Jordan Richards on the right. The full-back measured a cross in to the box which was glanced clear by a defender at the front post but struck Michael Tonge and bounced back towards goal where keeper Jamie Jones failed to deal with it, allowing Thomas to gleefully ram home from a yard and give Pools the lead.
Stevenage responded well though and Adam Bartlett had to be alert to hold a low free-kick from Tonge, while Franks had another good chance but screwed a left-footed shot wide from twelve yards.
Lewis Alessandra came close to doubling Pools’ advantage when he lifted a twenty-five yard free-kick over the wall but it cannoned back off the cross bar and Stevenage were able to clear.
It proved a key moment because just a minute later, Jake Carroll gave away the ball on the halfway line and Matt Godden stormed away down the right to feed a low delivery in to the area for Tom Pett to slide home the equaliser.
Pools were then thankful to Bartlett for a couple of brilliant saves to keep it at 1-1; first he leapt full-stretch to his left to claw Andrew Fox’s header out of the corner, before then producing an even better finger-tip save to deny Tyler Walker after the young forward had sent a curler towards the far post.
However, just before the break Bartlett was powerless to stop Walker – on loan from Nottingham Forest – scoring on his debut. Pools struggled to clear a corner and when Alessandra’s header looped in to the air eight yards out, only Walker reacted and had the presence of mind to execute a perfect overhead kick beyond the helpless Bartlett.
Thomas could have grabbed a leveller just before the break after running at the Stevenage defence and sending a low shot on goal, which the nervous Jones just about managed to keep hold of.
The second half began slowly but burst in to life on 53 minutes when centre-back Dean Wells made it 3-1, getting free from a left-wing corner to head against the post before reacting quickest to nod home the rebound.
Four minutes later it was effectively game over as the hosts helped themselves to a fourth goal. Tom Pett won possession on the halfway line and set Fox away down the left and he lifted his head to lay a low ball across the edge of the area for Walker who expertly guided the ball in to the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Jack King could have made things worse almost immediately when he headed just over but the home fans didn’t have to wait long for their next moment of joy – Carl Magnay brought down Pett in the area and Tonge stepped up to ram home a fifth goal from the penalty spot.
Walker could have had a hat-trick when Pools lost possession and allowed the hosts to counter-attack but his low shot was straight at Bartlett and Hignett’s men were let off the hook.
Stevenage who continued to find the greater cutting edge, and a ball over the top caught out the Pools defence again and only a brilliant, stretching save from Bartlett prevented the sixth goal.
Billy Paynter nodded a tame effort at the keeper after a driving run and cross from fellow substitute Josh Laurent as Pools made a rare foray in to opposition territory.
Another ball over the top was enough to undo Pools though; as it bounced through the middle Bartlett ran from his line to try and clear but Godden got there first and nodded it past the keeper and turned to celebrate as it rolled in to the net.
Paynter, debutant Bradley Fewster and Thomas all came close to pulling a goal back in the closing stages for Pools but, in truth, it would have been a consolation they didn’t really deserve.
Full Time: Stevenage 6 Pools 1
Booked: Richards (43), Harrison
Stevenage: Jones, Fox, King, Franks, Walker (Cowans 73), Pett, Tonge, Wells (Lee 77), Godden, Henry (Kerr 81), Ntlhe.
Subs Not Used: Day, Liburd, Hyde, Hunte.
Pools: Bartlett, Richards, Magnay, Harrison, Carroll, Featherstone, Woods (Laurent 70), Deverdics (Paynter 56), Alessandra, Amond (Fewster 60), Thomas.
Subs Not Used: Dudzinski, Martin, Hawkins, Heardman.