Town fell to defeat in their opening Papa Johns Trophy group game as a first-half brace from Mikael Ndjoli was enough to seal a 2-0 victory for Hartlepool.
It was a much brighter showing after the break from Town after falling behind but despite creating opportunities they couldn’t find a way past a solid Ben Killip in the Pools goal, who earned their first win of the 2022/23 season.
Town made three changes following the heavy defeat at the hands of Newport on Saturday, with Lewis Richards and Warren Burrell coming into the backline and Tyler Frost handed his first start for the club with Luke Armstrong rested.
And they made most of the running in the early stages of the game but saw Burrell booked for a foul on 13 minutes just after Jack Muldoon had tested Killip in the Pools goal.
Town then fell behind after 16 minutes in slightly unfortunate circumstances, after a cross into the box deflected into the path of Jamie Sterry who squared for Ndjoli to poke home.
Tom Crawford almost doubled the lead on 20 minutes when he found space on the left, cut in sharply and fired a shot away. His effort though was too close to Pete Jameson.
Sterry was then booked for a foul on Burrell before Josh Falkingham’s evening was cut short with Town’s recently returned skipper forced off with what looked to be a hamstring injury. Falkingham was replaced by youngster George Horbury.
Town would shortly after find themselves two goals down as Ndjoli struck his second of the night. The Town defence afforded far too much time and space on the left hand side and Mouhamed Niang found himself all alone in the box to square for Ndjoli to have the simplest of tasks in converting.
The best spell of the half came in the minutes just before the break. Josh Austerfield intercepted an errant pass, played in Jack Muldoon on the right hand side and his low cross was met by Frost but Killip was equal to the effort.
Moments later Killip did even better. Burrell hung up a cross to the back post which was powerfully met by Jaheim Headley but Killip was quickly down low to his right to make the save when it seemed that Town had found a way back into the game.
Finding his side two goals down at the break Simon Weaver made a tactical change, switching formation to a 4-3-3 in a bid to try and get something from the game.
The move paid early dividends with Town coming out with a greater sense of purpose than over the first 45 minutes and an early move involving Headley and Burrell saw both get shots away that were blocked by the home defence.
Good feet from substitute Horbury in the box saw him pick out Muldoon but his glancing header was well wide.
To recover the deficit Town needed to turn the early dominance into goals. And on the hour mark Armstrong
entered the fray replacing Frost.
Crawford then impudently struck from just inside the Town half that almost caught out Jameson, who was positioned off his line. The Town keeper backpedalled smarty to thwart the danger and tip the ball over the bar.
Weaver then made a further change when Miles Welch-Hayes replaced Ferguson after 63 minutes with the hosts following suit by introducing Joe Grey and Jack Hamilton for McDonald and Ndjoli.
The early half momentum had begun to dissipate for Town though and Sterry advanced to the edge of the box and forced a strong save from Jameson.
Town’s best passage of play of the half though forced another save from Killip. Good work from Horbury set up Matt Daly to find Armstrong who fired a low right-footed effort that Killip – who was having a solid evening – kept out.
With ten minutes remaining a goal bound Austerfield effort took a deflection wide with the resulting corner pinballing around the hosts defence before Headley’s shot went wide.
Armstrong then connected well with an effort that Killip turned away but it was symptomatic of Town’s evening that the shot wasn’t quite clinical enough in its execution.
Despite the defeat Town have plenty still to play for in the competition and next entertain Everton under-21’s in early October.
Hartlepool United: Kilip, Sterry, Menayese, Lacey, Murray, Paterson, Featherstone, Niang (Shelton, 83), Crawford, Ndjoli (Gray, 63), McDonald (Hamilton, 63.
Subs not used: Letheren, Ferguson Shelton, Taylor, Tumilty, Sylla, Hastie.
Goals: Ndjoli (16, 33).
Booked: Sterry (22)
TOWN: Jameson, Burrell, Ferguson (Welch-Hayes, 63), Richards, Ramsey, Headley, Falkingham (Horbury, 27) Austerfield, Frost (Armstrong, 59), Daly, Muldoon.
Subs not used: Oxley, Ilesanmi, Tweed.
Booked: Burrell (13)